Book Reviews: Spring 2017

Anna Faktorovich, PhD

A Slightly Biased View of One of the Last Surviving US Unions


Timothy J. Minchin. Labor Under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO Since 1979. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, May 15, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3298-8. $39.95. 432pp. 6.125X9.25”. 25 illustrations.

A history of the largest labor federation in America, the AFL-CIO, which has been steadily fighting for unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, and universal health care, in times when the right has been regressing the country on these issues. New archival evidence is presented by Timothy Minchin, a professor of North American history at La Trobe University in Australia. The book is chronologically organized and meticulously researched. It includes several archival, black and white photographs from the different periods in the organization. The book was supported by Australian Research Council’s three-year discovery grant, and with research leave from his university. The “Introduction” opens with the story of how Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) gave an impassioned speech and argued with a white woman that working people should not let Barack Obama’s race cloud their judgement at the polls in the 2008 election, helping to swing the vote in Obama’s favor because the video went viral. Trumka became AFL-CIO president in 2009.

While this is an interesting detail about the role labor plays in US elections, the premise behind this book is a bit troubling because we are currently watching Washington repeal Obama Care, and the near-failure of the social security system, so any pro-labor strides Obama made have been redone in months of the Trump presidency. And did Obama really improve things for laborers in terms of unemployment insurance? There were as many protests against Obama’s actions as against Bush’s from the left. And why would a labor union become involved in promoting the Democrat party? And how is screaming that the other side is racist the sort of behavior that gets somebody elected president of a union? It seems more like a brawl at a supermarket…

After this riotous intro, the book becomes very difficult to digest with too many facts and without subheadings to guide the reader on the content to follow. The participation in elections is explained when the author calls AFL “primarily a Washington-based organization that focused on providing a legislative voice” for its 12-15 million members (7).

The details of how this union formed and developed are definitely of interest to anybody that wants to join it, or who is researching American labor. Most unions have been on a decline, so it is of interest why this particular union has survived. The book describes the power struggles and shifts between Meany’s “one-man show” style of presiding over AFL and the following president’s looser and more cooperative style (50). The Clinton chapter is titled, “He’s on Our Side? Hope and Betrayal in the Clinton Years” – this seems a bit biased as the Obama chapter is unnaturally congratulatory, but perhaps it had to be as the book was written during it and after the labor party helped Obama win (and Hillary to lose).

A Very Useful Guide to Every Stone and House of Gettysburg


Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler. A Field Guide to Gettysburg, Second Editioin. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, May 8, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3336-7. $24.00. 488pp. 60 illustrations.

This book is very well designed and appealing to behold; I might even take it with me on my next long-distance move. The cover map is a beautiful design, and it is repeated a couple of the title pages. The paper is glossy and strong like some of the more expensive color illustrated textbooks and other travel guides. Unless somebody is an anti-war extremist, he or she should really like this book. When I live in the south, I frequently visit museums of early American history and sights of major conflicts, which are treasured there more so than in other parts of America, where history is a bit less authentic. So, I’m sure this book will find a lot of interested readers in the southern region. I have visited fewer battlefields than I would have if a book like this was in my library. For example, the book includes many very detailed maps that show not only the progress of the troops, but also who commanded, died, and lived on the spots, with anecdotes about those characters that distinguished themselves. Without such a guide, a field is just a field and only somebody that closely researchers the period might imagine what happened and where. This guide invites casual readers to step into history. Civil War reenactors would probably really benefit from details like this. Perhaps it’s better than most guides because this is a second edition, which must have had some imperfections polished away. The authors are both guides, so it is written in a style that grabs interest and the intellect. The book is designed to take visitors three-days of exploration to follow from start to finish. I guess most people spend around a week on vacation, so this is probably the length of time somebody could physically spend in one region exploring markers and sights during this stretch. Each of these days matches one of the three days that the Battle of Gettysburg lasted. Carol Reardon is also a Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University, and Tom Vossler is a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, and former director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute: this combination explains how they manage to have a sensibility to the lives lost and the leaders of the battle, while also researching the details with detachment needed for scholars to gain something as well. There are even photographs of the current houses and terrains with arrows pointing out what each of the markers was during the Battle. Anybody that has attempted to find something on a guide’s outdated map will appreciate the use of these modern-day photographic explanations.

The only downside is that the information might blur together because of the repetition of the same sub-headings of sections: “What Happened Here?” “Who Fought Here?” and the like. While each of the stories is amusing or tragic, four hundred pages of this pattern is a bit weighty on the eyes. It might also be difficult to teach a book like this in a class because the information is pretty scattered rather than being organized based on themes of the clash.

This is definitely a vacation guide to be read like popular literature during leisure hours for the purpose of exploring the region. If you can get Reardon and Vossler to be your guides as you explore this book, the trip should be fun for any intellectual Civil War buffs.

Your Dragon Ate Our Flag


Gregg A. Brazinsky. Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry During the Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April 17, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3170-7. $39.95. 448pp. 6.125X9.25”. 8 illustrations.

The cover of this book includes a slightly vandalized version of the American flag, which is upside down, and does not have all of its stripes and stars… And it’s being attacked by a red dragon that is plowing a hole across it.

This is a study about the struggle between China and America during the Cold War in the third world. In recent years, China is continuing this struggle by building roads and infrastructure in the third world to make it easier for it to sell products there, so this is a good time to look back at how China gained a dominant position in the developing markets.

Curiously most of the titles are called a synonym of “rivalry” and “competition,” but the last chapter is called, “Competition and Cooperation, 1968-1979,” thus suggesting that while the relationship was strained between China and the US, it cooled and became friendly after this point.

This book was sponsored by a 2010-11 visiting scholarship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in between Gregg A. Brazinsky’s teaching at George Washington University.

The start of the rivalry is reported as being in 1919 because of tensions between two of the countries’ leaders, Woodrow Wilson and Mao Zedong. Curiously, Mao is noted as being the key player despite being a “twenty-five-year-old Chinese revolutionary… an unknown figure in a relatively old nation that was too weak to prevent itself from being divided up and humiliated by the imperial powers” (14). This is a pretty strong statement for a scholarly study as it shows some judgement and criticism of Mao that are almost insults rather than observations of fact. Mao and China’s communism are typically viewed with derision in the West, but scholars usually soften this language.

The book dives into the heart of communism, capitalism and third world economics. Readers who are interested in links between colonialism and all these other -isms, should definitely read this study. Scholars will find plenty of evidence from archival research to assist further research into this barely explored topic.

A New Age Trip into Sex in the Seventies


Judy Kutulas. After Aquarius Dawned: How the Revolutions of the Sixties Became the Popular Culture of the Seventies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April 17, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3291-9. $29.95. 274pp. 6.125X9.25”. 17 illustrations.

This book is named after the Age of Aquarius, a New Age concept that according to the Zodiac, the Age of Aquarius (the constellation and symbol) began around the 1960s. It was used by the hippies as a rallying cry for change to match the transition into a new astrological period. The subtitle explains that while only a minority of radicals were rebelling for change in the 1960s, the 1970s saw the popularization of the movements for change that these radicals previously started.

The cultural shift happened when sexual liberation, gender equality and family and work dimensions for both genders changed gradually with the help of popular film, television and music.

I taught cultural studies this past year at UTRGV, and upon close examination of American media from the 60s onwards, I do not believe that media has portrayed images of women that truly benefit women’s rights. The notion that sexual “freedom” means more nudity and sexual exploitation of women on the screen subverts the true goals of feminism: equality of the sexes. Perhaps some women want sexual equality… but do women really want to sleep around with men at the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases? I believe women really would prefer a good job that pays an equal wage to men’s. Thus, the premise of this book kind of assists my current skepticism about the humiliation and degradation of women in pop culture.

The main sections of the book are about sex, changing masculinity, the family, gayness, and oddly enough, the Jonestown tragedy. The others are all pretty much about sex, so the last one stands out. Judy Kutulas explains that she was touched by the Jonestown incident because one of her relatives died there. The link makes more sense when one recalls the title of the book is New Age and suggests that the author is perhaps a follower of alternative religions, as she was perhaps influenced by not only the relative that died but also by other friends and relatives that might have practiced Eastern, Wicca, or radical religions like the one that struck the Jonestown victims. The chapter talks about conspiracy theories, such as that the FBI and CIA killed everybody in Jonestown rather than them killing themselves. It dances around cults and fear of outsiders, and Kutulas brings in the first person on occasion, but she does not really explain what her religious or cultish inclinations are.

I usually have trouble digesting these types of books because the first person of the author brings in casual opinions and far-fetched interpretations of events, instead of allowing detached research into the period to express the truth about the shift that might have taken place.

An Attempt to Prove that 3,000 People Can Change the World


Dalia Antonia Muller. Cuban Emigres and Independence in the Nineteenth-Century Gulf World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, May 1, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3198-1. $29.95. 324pp. 6.125X9.25”. 4 illustrations.

This book is about the Cuban exile community in Mexico, which began during Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain. They did not stop there, but spread a Cuban diaspora across the Gulf of Mexico. This is not only a book about the lives of emigres, but rather about their spread of revolutionary ideas across the region. Finally, the book documents how the return of these migrants later changed Cuba in turn.

It is a Cuban history from its early roots and across the period in question. Statistics on what the occupations of applicants for migration and the like are detailed to explain that they were doctors, journalists, professors, photographers and other professionals, with only a few working-class tailors and sailors. There is an exploration of what democracy truly means, as well as a discussion of the military techniques and ideologies employed in the wars that touched the immigrants’ lives. Tensions between Cuba and the rest of South America and Caribbean cultures are explained as a struggle between conservativism and liberalism, or between radicals and insiders.

The few black and white images included are of poor, unedited quality and most of them are copies of popular newspapers and prints. Descriptions of images play a role in the book, as in this example: “The three men have melted the Spanish crown and are seen hammering it into a new shape. Uncle Sam stands in the background fanning the fire with a bellow that reads ‘Monroe Dctrine’” (228). This anecdote continues, but there is no explanation about its significance or explanation before the paragraph ends. The start of the paragraph does explain the meaning, as the author claims that “traditional liberals of the 1890s were not necessarily Hispanophobes” (227). In other words, the preceding paragraphs proved that most of the liberals in the 1890s were afraid of Hispanics, or were racist. Accusing the group of racism with cartoons from a few artists seems to be a very harsh and barely supported criticism.

Overall, the concept of how only 3,000 immigrants could have changed the history of an enormous region is overly ambitious and I think this book needed significantly more research to climb this great height.

An Exploration of the Roots of American Materialism


Jennifer Van Horn. The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British American. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-2956-8. $49.95. 456pp. 6.125X9.25”. 130 illustrations.

An art history and a cultural study of civility in America. It explores the roots of early American materialism, documented by the increase of diverse purchases. The study argues that these objects created an appearance of civility despite the distance from the “center” of the civilized world, England. Somehow furniture and clothing is put on the same plane as literary works, as if they are of equal cultural value. In particular, this is a study of Anglo-American society, which Van Horn argues attempted to separate itself from their African-American and Native American neighbors with finery that indicated their relatively higher status.

The cover is a bit more bitter and biting than the summary of the book, as it is an illustration of a finely dressed woman holding a fan on half of a page, and a skeleton holding an error with a dismembered, bloody skeleton and bone by her feet on the other side. With over a hundred images in the book, thankfully all of them have been professionally edited and taken. The bulk probably was done by archive and museum photographers that polished them. These venues frequently charge a good deal for this work, so this book has been handsomely fiscally supported. Oddly, at least one of the images might have been reproduced twice, once in black and white and once in color; it’s the “Upper Case, Folding Glasses Pulled Out, Dressing Table, Made for Margaret Maria Livingston” from the New York Historical Society, which is also identified as the copyrights holder for the photo (205). Other images include portraits of aristocrats, grand architectural designs, and satirical cartoons. The cartoons poke fun at many of the fineries that the book is arguing separated their wearers into a higher class. For example, “The Folly of 1771” shows a hairdresser sculpting an upraised hairstyle that’s so tall he needs a ladder to get to the tip (285).

There is a great deal of curious information offered, such as how the ladies assembled the toilettes (302), and a section on the over use of makeup (312). The latter includes a cartoon that still hits on the truth today, “Six Stages of Mending a Face” (1792), wherein a woman starts out with saggy breaks, toothless, and hairless and across the set of six images puts all sorts of objects on to make herself look youthful and attractive (313). These images are accompanied by reflections on beauty from respected American politicians and scholars of the time, such as Thomas Jefferson.

This is a great book for anybody that wants to understand the roots of the modern, American materialistic culture. In England, aristocrats were pressured to dress in fineries as a show of status, but in America addiction to materialistically attained beauty became a competition that has continued to drive the poor into debt.

The Violent and Activist Struggle for Rights for Hosiery Workers


Sharon McConnell-Sidorick. Silk Stockings and Socialism: Philadelphia’s Radical Hosiery Workers from the Jazz Age to the New Deal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April 17, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3295-7. $29.95. 324pp. 6.125X9.25”. 9 illustrations.

An examination of the labor movements resurgence in hosiery mills in Kensington, a working-class part of Philadelphia. These mills were successful because they were selling silk stockings that were popular during the 1920s Jazz Age, but their makers were thinking about workers’ rights, rather than about dancing or drinking. The agency at the heart of this movement was the American Federation of Full-Fashioned Hosiery Workers (AFFFHW), which orchestrated picket lines and sit-down strikes. This is used as an example of how grassroots social movements are the leading tools of change in American society and culture.

The cover used a Soviet-style propaganda poster style. An abstract woman is leaping from the factory into the sea across a rising or setting sun image, holding a stocking high above her head, like a flag.

The story is chronological, and takes these activists all the way from their start in the 20s to their struggles in the Great Depression and beyond. The “Introduction” goes back even further to Thanksgiving of 1869, when the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor was founded, as this was a union that played a central role in American radical history, and inspired the hosiery workers to unionize as well.

Sharon McConnell-Sidorick writes that she started writing this book when she met two hosiery workers, Howard and Alice Kreckman, and they told her the dramatic stories of their fight for social justice.

This story is full of dramatic incidents. For example, in the middle of the hardships of the Great Depression:

someone at the mill placed an NRA “fair labor” Blue Eagle in a window as a taunt to the strikers, and the conflict came to another violent conclusion when strikers and neighbors charged a police-escorted truck of strikebreakers. Gunshots erupted from inside the truck. “Scores” were injured. A twenty-four-year-old woman picket was shot…, a fifty-one-year-old hosiery worker who had been blacklisted in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, and Frank Milnor, age nineteen, were shot to death…

Any researcher of labor, women’s rights, or this time period should be both enlightened and entertained by this reading. This is definitely a topic that deserves a great deal of scholarly attention.

An Epic to the Glory of a Beautiful Landscape and Culture


Barbara Garrity-Blake and Karen Willis Amspacher. Living at the Water’s Edge: A Heritage Guide to the Oouter Banks Byway. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April 10, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-2816-5. $22.00. 320pp. 6.125X9.25”. 54 illustrations.

In honor of the 2009 designation of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway this book explores the history and culture of the region around it. The trip takes readers through seashores and islands, and into other beautiful landscapes.

Barbara Garrity-Blake is a cultural anthropologist, and her co-author, Karen Willis Amspacher, is the director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island, and they write from a local’s perspective about their own and their neighbors cultural heritage.

This book has great illustrations throughout. The title page has a two-page photograph of a beach. The two-page cover image in all-color books seems to be fashionable now-a-days, and I think it works very well for travel guides. The first pages of chapters have a background abstraction in beige of a seashore as well. The sidebars are beige in background, stressing the stories in them. One of these is about a slave, Richard Etheridge, who became a captain in the Pea Island Lifesaving Service. There are also some professional photographs of average residents from the region, such as boatbuilders, as well as North Carolina Heritage Award recipients.

The book is broken down into sections on water (storms, fishing, boats), land (food, seashore park), people (language, names, faith), change (prices, locality), and two sections on the Oregon and Hatteras inlets, and their attractions, as well as a section on going across the North River.

It is a unique blend of historical facts, and conversational narratives about how the authors perceive their region’s language and other cultural elements. For example: “Young folks growing up in the era of school consolidation were often teased for their brogue by students from larger mainland communities, causing the island children to realize for the first time they did talk different” (61). In this example, the authors use a dialect writing style to explain the loss of this dialect due to cultural pressures to assimilate with mainstream culture.

The book also propagates on behalf of local seafood, fisherman, and other local enterprises, expressing sympathy and encouragement for their plight, as well as showing how they are strengthening the region.

Anybody who is moving to North Carolina should read this guide, perhaps to find out about great places to visit on weekends, and perhaps to learn how to assimilate with this rich culture, or how to find a common language with its people.

Melodramatic Whining About the Dead


J. Hollars. Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birds. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, February 1, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-8032-9642-8. $24.95. 224pp. 6.5X8.5”. 13 illustrations.

J. Hollards attempts to bring us all closer to extinct birds in order to show us the tragedy of what we’ve lost. He travels between archives, Christmas Counts, and the Chicago Field Museum to many other places on a quest to understand them. From there, he moves to bird watching of those birds that are still living, and makes a plea for environmental consciousness.

While this summary is inspiring, it is also a bit alarmist and a bit of a horror movie about the plague that killed all the innocent birds. The names of the chapters echo this notion, as they include two chapters with Lord God Bird in them, another chapter title with Death List in it and a chapter with Ghost in it. There are few tragedies written in modern times, so this by itself could be a very good thing, but the preach and melodramatic nature of the narrative is what sours the read for the general audience. It’s almost as if these types of books are written by anti-environmentalists that are eager to bore the general public away from the topic.

These types of books are frequently written in a romance novel style. Here’s an example: “At first I mistook their tappings for a knock on the front door, but as I moved toward it, it was evident that the sound was coming from elsewhere” (1). A few taps later, the author reveals that the woodpecker was indeed tapping on the door, or rather the screen door. He uses short choppy sentences and paragraphs with one or two sentences, and inserts conversations with his wife, and his thoughts about the woodpecker and the rest. Research is very scarce, as bits about professional hunters’ errors that lead to extinction are brushed over (99). Instead, the author is hypnotized by the romance of death. The conversations with other bird enthusiasts frequently lead nowhere, as if they’re hiding a mystery in the hope the reader will stay with the narrative because nothing has yet been revealed. Then again, the subtitle of the book is A Love Affair with Extinct Birds, so at least I was given exactly what I expected to find within this little book.

I do not recommend this work to readers, regardless of their political or cultural leanings. Serious researchers into birds will be frustrated by a lack of information. Casual readers have to be fans of melodramatic tragedy to appreciate this as they would a beach novel.

Foul-Mouthed Anecdotes of America’s Chiefs of Staff


Chris Whipple. The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency. New York: Crown Publishing Group, April 4, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-8041-3824-6. $28.00. 364pp.

A common topic of gossip about White Houses is when power rests with somebody other than the President. Jokes and political cartoons and comedic sketches are written about powerful First Ladies or advisers. This book advertises itself as the first “behind-the-scenes look at the White House Chiefs of Staff,” who are reported as being the true leaders behind the course of American politics. These chiefs are supposed to execute the President’s agenda by leading the staff, which is made up of hundreds of people across the last century. At the same time, the Chief is a sort of secretary that screens visitors and communicates deals with Congress and other bodies on the President’s behalf. The unique thing about this book is that it includes interviews with seventeen living chiefs, truly making it an exceptional collection.

In my years reviewing and studying political books, I have never seen one include interviews with so many key political figures. This promises a good read because books that only rely on interviews with a single personage tend to get boring, while books that rely on interviews with hundreds of people can digress easily and lose focus.

The book does not merely flatter these chiefs, but also finds them to be at fault for everything from the Monica Lewinsky scandal to Jimmy Carter’s lack of a chief (well he had at least two, but perhaps they were not all there) led to overall failure to be an effective president. Andrew Card is blamed for failing to stop the infighting between Bush’s advisers, thus muddling the decision to invade Iraq.

The author of this book, Chris Whipple, created a documentary on this subject, The Presidents’ Gatekeepers (2013), before spending the following years on this research project. He’s won Peabody and Emmy awards as the producer at CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Primetime, which explains his access to all of these political leaders and the famous people that wrote blurbs for this book.

Crown Publishing included an interview with the author together with a summary of how Trump’s weak chief of staff has undermined his first 100 days in office. The interview reflects the current pessimism about the position of the gatekeeper in a potentially corrupt, chaotic or disruptive White House. Whipple replies that the chief “is, as Leon Panetta says, the ‘son of a bitch’ who can tell others what the president cannot tell them…” Well, if the chief of staff is a son of a bitch… that settles that. He also has strong words for Trump and Priebus, saying they are “the most dysfunctional in modern history,” making “rookie mistakes,” and posting “not-ready-for-primetime communications,” and all together Trump’s executive orders are “half-cocked,” which points to Priebus being “the least effective” chief of staff in this position’s history. This anger might be the result of poorer expected sales for this book at a time when so many Americans are dissatisfied with a half-cocked president. Thus, it seems like a great strategy to attack the obviously flawed chief and stress that this book is a guide that might help this or future chiefs to avoid similar disasters, and it might serve as a guide to the public to understand how exactly are things getting so muddled.

This is a well-crafted narrative with plenty of foul-mouthed anecdotes about the inner workings of the presidents’ staffs. One of these days I’ll attempt reading it cover-to-cover, as from its parts, it seems to have more dramatic spikes than the best literary novel, and enough never-before-seen research from first-hand accounts to outpace its rivals in the politics field. Thus, I definitely recommend reading this book to casual and scholarly students of the politics of recent decades.

A History of How Trash Became Fashionable


Jennifer Le Zotte. From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3190-5. $27.95. 344pp. 6.125X9.25”. 24 illustrations.

An analysis of how secondhand clothing transitioned in status from lower-class charity items to upper-class radical statements of mainstream counter-culture. Le Zotte examines clothing worn by rebels among anti-Vietnam war movement to drag queens helped to influence fashion choices of popular icons such as Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who chose grunge outfits even after they grew rich from fame.

This project would have been improved with more images, as there are only a couple dozen images across the long history of the grunge style. Clothing is a visual medium, so the lack of illustrations is disconcerting. However, the grunge style is simply the use of secondhand clothing, rather than the type of clothing being used. One illustration is of Kurt Cobain in a flowery dress over a white t-shirt, and in contrast with his thick beard and mustache (217). The dress hangs loosely and is crumpled and ill-fitting, as it would be if it was worn many times before and then was tossed out, before being re-appropriated by Cobain. He’s also holding a cigarette in the image. I don’t think it’s a major topic in the book, but based on the pop celebrities Le Zotte focuses on, it seems the grunge style has gone together with the drug culture, as it expresses the general dazed and confused style that results from heavy drug use. One word I think summarizes this clothing movement: “hip capitalists,” which Le Zotte takes out of the Diggers’ propagandistic broadsides and pamphlets in opposition to unhip consumption and oppression (173).

Celebrities today frequently wear secondhand or impoverished looking outfits, perhaps to build sympathy for them from their audience, who might lose the desire to “follow” them on social media if their capitalist consumption of fancy clothing, cars, houses and other luxuries becomes outrageously flaunting. By disguising themselves in grunge, they are almost wearing masks of rebellion and impoverishment that allow them to maintain the appearance of being underdogs despite their top social status.

If the Suburbs Are Taken, We’ll Make a Surrogate


Todd M. Michney. Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighbrhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3194-3. $34.95. 350pp. 6.125X9.25”. 13 illustrations.

The narrative of the role the black middle class formed in actively settling in the outer-city spaces and precipitating white flight out of these regions at a time when moving to whites-only suburban neighborhoods was prohibited by law or societal pressures, between 1900 and 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio.

It chronologically describes changes by decades and in different parts of Cleveland, as the outer bounds of the black neighborhoods expanded. The story is assisted with statistics on employment and homeownership among blacks, which demonstrate patterns across different economic groups. Since the movements were geographic, maps of the shifts over the decades help to illustrate these migrations. In addition, the case against racial residential segregation is explained through U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this matter, as well as the various movements and activisms that helped to bring about change. The role the Cuyahoga County Council for Civilian Defense and its Block Plan, as well as community organizations like the Jewish Community Council is detailed alongside how they cooperated with NAACP and other national organizations.

Anybody that has struggled with finding equal housing opportunities as well as researchers of economics and housing will find a thoroughly researched and engaging account.

A Hypnotic Attempt to Fool Readers into Paying for This Book


Aswath Damodaran. Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business. New York: Columbia Business School Publishing, February 28, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-231-18042-1. $29.95. 296pp.

Why do incompetent babies run the biggest Silicone Valley businesses, and why don’t their investors pull out as they start to crash under the burden of their own incompetence? The answer is: great story telling according to Aswath Damodaran, the Chair of Finance at NYU. He makes all this sound very romantic as he explains that great story tellers have to work with accountants to make the numbers sound more appealing. In reality, these storytellers are liars or twisters of the truth. Their job is to keep the investors and other responsible parties from reading the catastrophes unraveling in the detailed account statements. They have to be able to sell major losses as victories. Their eternal optimism and showmanship nearly always succeeds if their audience is made up of people like them. One of the primary examples Damodaran reviews is Uber’s rise… perhaps he finished this section before the more recent collapse Uber has seen because of major mismanagement problems? He actually attempts to prove that nothing but good storytelling was the reason Facebook and Twitter were valued in billions upon their first public offerings. This is like saying that China’s currency is devalued because the country’s leaders are telling good stories… no, it’s devalued because the leaders have devalued it. Connections to the people making the evaluation of the stocks might have set a high price on both Facebook and Twitter… but a good story? From my perspective, this is a very controversial book, which attempts to excuse the “bro” or sexually harassing and flaunting chauvinist culture that dominates modern American business.

Just as one would expect, the titles of the chapters suggest very general narrative ideas about editing, alterations, news, and the endgame. This is a common, casual, personal, narrative business writing style that has been encroaching on the field, exemplified by horrid books from Trump and the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series. The first chapter, “A Tale of Two Tribes” sets up the reader with an expectation of literary fiction style as it is inspired by Charles Dickens title, A Tale of Two Cities. Then, the author proceeds, in the first person, to give readers a test if they are number people or creative people. This diverts the reader’s attention from evaluating the potential value of the book in enriching his or her understanding of the field into instead thinking about themselves (who are they really?). The next section begins thus: “For centuries, knowledge was passed on from generation to generation through stories, told and retold, perhaps gathering new twists…” (2). I won’t continue with this quote as this is an example of hypnotic writing. The author says something without any basis in truth. Ask yourself: what is a story? If he used the term “fiction,” then he’d be saying that people have been lying for centuries. But instead, the term stories can refer to either fiction or non-fiction, to myth or to history. Was there a time when people did not tell stories? The earliest cave paintings are examples of the earliest stories that we can be sure of, and these were drawn thousands and not hundreds of years ago.

Then in the chapter on “Number-Crunching Tools,” he summarizes obvious components like data collection and analysis. If he later offers formulas and tables, he hardly explains these, instead discussing narratives in general. While he promises to explain how Facebook and the rest won through storytelling, the details of these successes are hardly present. He begins his Case Study of Facebook (2014) by saying that he was one of the key value-granting personages for Facebook in 2012. In other words, those people that could be influenced to start a company with billions in valuation are… him… the author. The rest of the account is mostly about how Facebooks numbers were growing and how he spotted that it was undervalued (an essential catch for any investor that can make millions). But, what does all this have to do with great storytelling.

This is a horrid, digressive, poorly written, and ill-informed book. Damodaran should have written about finance or about narrative, an attempt to blend the two has resulted in catastrophic failure.

Anti-Feminists Struggle to Remain Rich in Vietnam


Jessica M. Frazier. Women’s Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3179-0. $29.95. 236pp. 6.125X9.25”. 8 illustrations.

The back cover foretells my chief criticism against this type of narrative: American women went to Vietnam to propagandize to Vietnamese women in an attempt to win the war through cultural domination when military means were failing. Frazier is aware of this likely criticism, and explains that unlike other attempts at convincing foreign women of an American agenda, in this case the women had an anti-Cold War message, and were not “cultural imperialists.” The assertion is that they “solicited” the Vietnamese women’s advice and “viewed them as paragons of a new womanhood” amidst America’s ongoing “feminist agitation.” What does this mean? Does it mean that American women involved in this exchange of ideas decided to regress to the norms that were held by women in Vietnam, where fewer women worked, and more stayed at home to care for the family? The first chapter is called, “Mothers as Experts, 1965-1967,” so this pro-motherly and anti-work take seems to be the direction she went in. In conclusion, the summary claims that the book shows how the Vietnam war actually improved cooperation between the two countries, or was an uplifting moment in history. It’s true that nobody else has attempted this before… but I doubt Frazier can pull this off without some unbelievably… unconventional notions.

The details really do not match the summary. The American women were in Vietnam when American POWs started to be captured, and for a while they were not allowed to leave the country, with hints that they might also be imprisoned (as they were war-related activists, regardless of if they were for or against it) (45). Then there are bits where one of the American women, a Chicano movement participant, Martinez, writes about the beauty of the Vietnamese countryside… What does this have to do with stopping the war? It seems more like they were careful to avoid talking about the war while they were there to keep from being arrested (58). Meanwhile the Vietnamese women participating in this exchange also suffered repercussions, Thanh’s “antiwar work” cased her husband to lose “his job as director of the Fisheries Service, and as a result “the family lost government housing.” To which Thanh responded by threatening to move to the Presidential Palace’s lawn, before her husband got a job as a professor (108). This is a very odd type of feminism. Instead of making any attempt to find a job herself, Thanh threatened the President? Was she antiwar or anti-presidential?

This is a troubling book that fails to identify key terms, like antiwar and Cold War. Amidst the chaos, the message is confused in conflicting ideologies, and an attempt to see something positive in one of the darkest spots on American history.

Random House vs. the Mississippi School System


Charles W. Eagles. Civil Rights, Culture Wars: The Fight Over a Mississippi Textbook. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 13, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3115-8. $34.95. 312pp. 6.125X9.25”. 6 illustrations.

This is a needed study about censorship of Mississippi schools’ curriculum via the 1974 banning of Mississippi: Conflict and Change by James W. Loewen and Charles Sallis, which was a ninth grade history textbook that incorporate sections on women, workers, racial minorities and other underrepresented segments. Loewen, Sallis and others (perhaps with the help of their publisher, Random House) filed a federal lawsuit to protest the ban, Loewen v. Turnipseed. Loewen won the case, bringing in state funds to allow for the textbooks adoption in the state’s Textbook Purchasing Board.

Nearly all history textbooks by the 90s had sections on minority groups, so clearly cases like this one made a permanent impact on American culture. Charles Eagles, the author of this study, is a Professor of History at the University of Mississippi, so he is definitely the right author for this book. Eagles admits that despite the victory, the initial book reached “new levels of tokenism” (225), meaning that only a few minorities from each group were reported on to give the appearance of equal representation. Another example of this is when museums include a single female artist amidst numerous men to avoid the appearance of blatant sexism. The lifting of the ban gave Random House a decade of a near-monopoly on this somewhat representative version of history before any other such textbook could pass by the Board. Loewen went on to pen the bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me, so this book was very beneficial for the authors and their publisher.

This is a book that has an argument at its core, as it is for the tokenistic inclusion of underrepresented groups in textbooks. The details of the history are saturated in these argumentative appeals.

I am interested in this topic as a publisher. It would be great if states adopted or allowed for the adoption of even one of Anaphora’s releases. It would mean hundreds of thousands in profits if even a single school district buys one of Anaphora’s books. But there are numerous hurdles to joining the list of approved books. I would be competing with major publishers like Random House or Penguin/Random. But, if I lost a bid, I would just assume that my competitors are bigger than me, and even if there is a case to be made that small women-run underprivileged businesses should be given an equal chance, apparently, it would take a very length and costly lawsuit, and possible encounters with the KKK to win that fight.

Eagles has done a thorough job researching this study, and has presented it in a consumable way, without too much preaching or too much unexplained evidence. There is even an “Essay on Sources,” a segment that I haven’t seen before in a scholarly book, so it’s clear that the author enjoyed the research process, and this shows in the quality of the final product.

Savory Fruit


Nancie McDermott. Fruit: A Savor the South ® Cookbook. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 13, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3115-8. $34.95. 312pp. 6.125X9.25”. 6 illustrations.

A lighter book in weight and topic, this is a collection of recipes that involve fruits from Southern cuisine. They include both locally grown Southern fruits, such as blackberries, scuppernong grapes, and strawberries, as well as foreign fruits that are popular in the region like watermelons.

The book is divided into sections by fruit names: blackberries, figs and the like. Interior pages are well designed with some green-framed color pages. Sadly, photographs of the dishes are not included, so it is difficult to imagine how some of them will look when completed. On the other hand, all of the recipes are very detailed, unlike recipes you might find online that only offer the basic steps on how to cook a dish.

The publisher gives special permission to reprint the entirety of a handful of recipes for promotional purposes. One of these is the “Moroccan-Inspired Lamb Stew with Quince.” It attracted my attention because I try to avoid very sweet treats, and this seemed like a better dietary option. To make 4 servings, the recipe asks for 2 ½ pounds of lamb shoulder or lamb stew meat cut into 2-inch chunks, with 2 or 3 medium quinces, totaling around 1 ½ pounds. I actually initially misread the name as quiche, and was wondering where the fruit is in this dish. But seeing cinnamon on the ingredients list, I re-read the word “quinces” and looked it up. These look like pears, and I might have purchased them in the South without realizing I was buying quinces instead of my intended target, pears. So, I’ve learned something new. Quinces are not related to pears; they just look like them. The cooking description is poetic as in this example: “Gently wash [the quinces] and rub them with a clean, soft kitchen towel to remove any fuzz. Peel them, halve them lengthwise, and cut away their cores, stems, and blossom ends…” (133-4).

I doubt I am going to attempt these recipes as they are better fit for feeding a group of people versus just a single person like me on an average evening, but it will be good to keep it on my shelf in case some fruit starts going bad and I need to do something creative with it. I would recommend this book to more serious cooks who will utilize it in their kitchen.

American Anti-Vietnamese Xenophobia


Allison Varzally. Children of Reunion: Vietnamese Adoptions and the Politics of Family Migrations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3091-5. $29.95. 222pp. 6.125X9.25”. 19 illustrations.

A unique take on Vietnamese migrants into the U.S. during the Vietnam War conflict, which sees the immigrants as having “challenged… efforts of reconciliation.” From this summary, this seems to be a xenophobic, anti-immigration treatise. Americans are shown as the heroes that offered a helping hand to the Vietnamese children who were probably orphaned by the conflict. The problem, according to Varzally is that some of these migrants later chose to reunite with their relatives… This is a pretty alarming introduction.

This is a story about assimilation or a refusal to assimilate by immigrants who initially attempt to melt into, but eventually feel like outsiders in American culture. The author describes one immigrant who had expected that her re-located family in Vietnam would be “poor” and would “need” her “assistance,” but discovered that they were actually well off or “pretty settled” (2). This shows an ethnic discrimination that the immigrant learned from the American education and propaganda system, but since it is a true stereotype, it is acceptable to comment on it in a scholarly book. These first impressions are probably misrepresenations of the whole. Later in the book, Varzally writes: “Adopted black Vietnamese navigated communities where their African American heritage precipitated as much comment, and often complaint, as did their Vietnamese ancestry. After an angry shopper shouted ‘Half-Pint Nigger’ at and assaulted Hoang Purdy in a convenience store in 1981 near his home in Massachusetts, his father, David, wrote an editorial published by the local newspaper.” This article explained that Hoang was airlifted from Vietnam and into the US because it was believed that orphaned children of African American (and other) GIs would be better treated in the US vs. under communism, and yet they were facing possibly more violence and harassment in the US than they would have back in Vietnam (128). Thus, it’s not so much that this book is about how the Vietnamese should all go back where they came from, but rather about how Americans are pressuring them to do so…

A Cultural and Musical Study of the Navajo


Kristina M. Jacobsen. The Sound of Navajo Country: Music, Language, and Dine Belonging. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 13, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3186-8. $24.95. 200pp. 6.125X9.25”. 18 illustrations.

An ethnography of Navajo country and other popular music cultures, with interviews with central musicians. Instead of showing the similarities between all Navajo people, Jacobsen explains how they differ in class, race, and tastes. The cover of the book depicts the author in cowboy boots and hat with a dark guitar and Native American style blue bracelet, earrings and belt. The author put herself on the cover because she is a pretty well-known, touring singer herself. The book includes a note on “Orthographic and Linguistic Conventions,” which explains proper pronunciation of Navajo words. The “Introduction” opens with a clash between a woman and a convenience store worker that ends with the older woman insulting the cashier: “What kind of Navajo are you?” in the Navajo language, which the cashier could not understand as she was listening to heavy metal. This explains the generational and cultural clashes that this book details. These two women could be bonding over their shared identity, but instead they are fighting over their differences. The book also includes maps and other visual aids and statistics that explain the current state of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Nation within its borders in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The narrative describes various components of this complex Navajo identity, such as the KTNN local popular country music station, and popular bands like the Wingate Valley Boys, alongside the impact of the American Indian Movement. This book is more conversational than scholarly, and yet there is plenty of statistics and historical fact to educate readers. Most of the discussion is about language and various components and styles of musical performance. Navajo residents who enjoy country music should take pleasure in reading this account and re-discovering their heritage. Scholars of culture and music will find plenty of evidence to use in their own scholarship on this topic.

A Lesson on How to Survive Diversity


Evelyn M. Perry. Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 27, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3138-7. $24.95. 248pp. 6.125X9.25”. 10 illustrations.

Maybe I’ve reviewed too many books in the last couple of days, but this one is really frustrating me. “The concentration on integration’s potential or its expected failure has left us with little understanding of how residents of stably mixed neighborhoods manage to live with diversity,” Evelyn Perry begins the introduction. She goes on to explain that this book was inspired by her own return to Milwakee, Wisconsin into a “racially and economically mixed Riverwest neighborhood” in 2007 (1). She attempts to explain how people can engage in “Difference Negotiations” (8), or generally to get along. This concept troubles me because in my experience, all Americans I’ve met across my travels and residences from coast to coast and in different economic neighborhoods are confrontational, insulting, rude, threatening, harassing, and generally set on making the lives of anybody who fails to integrate difficult. This culture of harassment and intimidation cannot be blamed on the poor or the rich, or any ethnic or racial group. Thus, the lines that have to be crossed for people to get along are not economic or racial, but cultural; it has to be unacceptable for people to taunt, insult or threaten their neighbors. If one watches nearly any American film, the races and classes are always at war with each other, and thus this conflict is engrained in young minds who are compelled to mimic this animosity. This kind of tension is uncommon in most countries around the world where people truly have bonds with their community, rather than unions with others designed to showcase that they’re in, and to keep the rest out of their network. Americans are too eager to talk about their communities, instead of living this lesson.

Are Arabs Fighting Against Israel in the Left?


Pamela E. Pennock. The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight Against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3098-4. $29.95. 328pp. 6.125X9.25”. 10 illustrations.

This is another troubling concept. Pennock attempts to summarize Arab Americans civil rights struggle in the 1960s and 1970s, while also discussing various unrelated social movements of the period. Before I go further, it is difficult for me to imagine what civil rights and other causes Arab American might share. Does this mean that this will be a book about Islam and their struggle for freedom to practice their religion, including praying during work hours at the office, or wearing a full head covering? The first part of the book is about the impact of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War on the start of this Arab American movement. Hm… This might be worse than I initially imagined. The “Introduction” opens with Arab American activists carrying banners that say: “Jewish People Yes, Zionism No” (1). Basically, this is a study that is about pro-Palestine and anti-Israeli activism by Arab people that move to the United States, but retain their conservative anti-Israeli sentiments. Young students are described as forming campus organizations, while autoworkers form unions to oppose Israel, or its anti-Arab actions. While the latter sounds more palatable. A war of opinion is fought in the west, and propaganda spread in America against Israel or its policies is likely to change Israel’s status internationally if it is successful, or it is likely to further enrage international Arabs who agree with these criticisms. An opposition to the State of Israel is troubling because Israel formed after the Holocaust, when Jews were rejected from most countries, and were forced to form their own country, which they nourished and developed into its present state. How can anybody suggest that this desperate measure is a threat to another people’s rights when the Jews’ or Zionists’ move into Israel was not a land-grab, but rather a last effort at survival? So, an anti-Zionist is not an activist or radical, but a very conservative Arab who sees these refugees as enemies. I can’t move further in this reading, as it will agitate me as somebody who visited Israel (even if I typically feel critical of its policies myself), and spent a couple of years in Hassidic schools…

Trade Rather Than One-Sided Gift-Giving in Native-British Relations


Jessica Yirush Stern. The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3148-6. $29.95. 268pp. 6.125X9.25”. 7 illustrations.

Jessica Stern presents an alternative story of the trade relationship between Native Americans and the British, explaining that both sides mixed gift giving and commercial trade, rather than Native Americans being the unfairly treated party that gave gifts without gaining anything in return. The “Introduction” opens with an example of one exchange that began in 1716 when a Cherokee man was prevented from making a trade in Charles Town, South Carolina after an official oath taken after the Yamasee War, but the exchange still took place when the Governor Robert Daniel carried out a gift giving ceremony where the two parties exchanged ten beaver skins for a gun. This is an example of how gift giving could be a two-way stream with both parties giving gifts of equal value as they would in any trade of goods, only the exchange is marked as a way to honor and show mutual respect for the other party. This seems like a great argument: I could never imagine why Native Americans would keep offering gifts if white settlers simply kept taking them without engaging in the traditional return of a gift for a gift. The book is scholarly and detached: the best sort of book. It carefully examines archival evidence of various instances of trade and gift giving between these groups and draws logical conclusions. This is a great book for historians writing American history textbooks, as they should definitely incorporate these ideas and avoid suggestions that devalue and sideline Native Americans contributions to the early American marketplace. The current sad state of Native American reservations makes this type of positive thinking about Native Americans as business-minded people essential for the resurgence of these impoverished regions.

James Vaughan’s Migration Back to African Roots


Lisa A. Lindsay. Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 1, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3112-7. $35.00. 328pp. 6.125X9.25”. 26 illustrations.

A very dramatic and engaging unique account of an African American, James Churchwill Vaughan (1828-93), migration from America to Africa a decade before the Civil War. This was his father’s dying wish. He did not have a happy start in Liberia, but after much struggle and a migration to present-day Nigeria, he found success as a merchant and set the ground work for a wealthy and politically established family that has had a great impact on the shaping of the region. The conclusion Lindsay presents is that “Africa, rather than America, offered new opportunities for people of African descent.” “Go back to Africa” is frequently used as an insult in American media and in historical accounts, but here this concept of returning to the ancestral land gains an economic and cultural strongpoint. The “Introduction” describes how the book began in 2002 during the author’s trip to Africa, where Lindsay met somebody of a mixed North Carolinian and Benin princess descent and this inspired her to learn more about his family, who turned out to be outstanding members of the community. The extensive family tree of this family in Africa and America takes up three pages preceding this intro. The family was only too happy to talk about these roots with their visitor, and clearly were of great help to the research it took to gather the details about James Vaughan’s life, which had previously been featured on the cover of Ebony in 1975, but was hardly known to scholars in the States. James actually did not move alone, but with his brother, and they were assisted by the American Colonization Society, the very one that championed a version of the “Go Back to Africa” campaign. Lindsay clarifies that Vaughan’s success was unique and that he was perhaps the sole person who “accomplished” the feat of reconnecting ties to his African family (3). Curiously, on the following page, Lindsay contradicts an early assumption she wrote into the book – apparently, Vaughan’s father was born in America, rather than in Africa, unlike the tale Vaughan was told or was passed down in the family. This is mentioned because if his father was born in Africa, his face would have been decorated with Yorubas facial marks that distinguished the main family trees in the region, and so Vaughan’s relatives would have been easier to find than they ended up being.

A great, innovative biography, history and cultural study of an alternative migratory narrative. As a migrant myself, I think this is a respectful and engaging approach to explaining how being an insider in a culture can give the social status needed for generations-long successful saga.

Anecdotes of How Radio Programs Are Really Made


John Biewen and Alexa Dilworth, eds. Reality Radio, Second Edition: Telling True Stories in Sound. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 13, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3313-8. $29.95. 272pp. 6.125X9.25”.

A collection of essays on audio documentary making from the genres top practitioners. This is the second edition, with five added essays that cover recently relevant topics like podcasts. The essays cover techniques for editing radio programs as wells as techniques of great storytelling. The book starts with a Foreword by Starlee Kine, who describes that she developed her first idea for This American Life during a funeral when a movie of her aunt’s dad’s life played. She then did interviews with those who made these funeral videos, but the interviews were too flat: “Our best interview was a guy walking us through, step by step, how to assemble a digital slideshow.” Then, on the last day, they encountered a dramatic movie-star-like character who told them he was gay and that he got into the business because his father was a funeral director, and then showed them the photos he hoped would eventually play at his own funeral. She later learned that the first set of tapes ended up being blank, and the only surviving tape was of the dramatic actor that talked about his family and personal problems. She used this story because: “I wanted to create a show that you experienced instead of just heard told to you” (xi-xiv). There is something odd about this story. In my experience when all but one tapes turn up blank… somebody’s dog must’ve eaten their homework… If this is the case, this seems like an odd way to start a book about the hard work of radio production…

The stories in this collection take the reader to different parts of the world and into different cultural, economic, political and other concerns that matter to these creators. Most of the essays are conversational, and are written as if a pal is trying to convince the reader to feel intellectually attracted towards the author/ him or herself. Bits touch on the history of radio or a given radio program. Other bits include well-known radio segment transcripts that demonstrate how the audio managed to appeal to listeners. There are also technical instructions, such as notes from Chris Brookes on how he searched for a “sound that suggested the way that radio static would have struck the ear a century ago” (16). He explains that there was no automatic pre-recorded statistic he could have used, and he had to go to some length to invent this sound to use it on the air.

The book is written as an instructional manual for potential future radio personalities. Anybody who hopes to create a podcast or to start a career in radio should read this book. Some of the advice might be less helpful than other bits, but anybody that reads this book closely and with skepticism should be greatly enriched.

Possibly a Story About a Girl Who Bicycled at Night…


Louis A. Perez Jr. Intimations of Modernity: Civil Culture in Nineteenth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 2, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3130-1. $39.95. 272pp. 6.125X9.25”. 24 illustrations.

This is another book that I just can’t sympathize with. The jacket promises a story of the development of Cuba’s “urban middle class,” which “was imbued with new knowledge and moral systems.” What does this mean? New knowledge is later explained as referring to capitalism amidst the sugar boom, but this history takes place long before the Cuban revolution, so why is capitalism “new” to them? Then the jacket explains that this is not a political book, but rather one that emphasizes “the character of everyday life.” But what does this character have to do with capitalism and sugar production? There are too many contradictions and clashing arguments just on the cover. Then a separate paragraph explains how this book is also about women… or how they were increasingly allowed to participate socially… by riding a bicycle. Now the whole thing is just a complete muddle. And the word “modernity” re-appears in the title and in this description, but the dates in the book are from the 19th century… I have not heard anybody calling the 19th century a part of the modernist movement before… Spanish sentences and their translations litter the interior of the book, as if it might be written for a bi-lingual audience; this is fine in itself, but somehow these act like interruptions in the narrative. The notes section at the end of the book is shorter here than in most of the other books I reviewed in this set, so perhaps it should have been lengthened by inserting these translations there instead. The cover includes a very dark image of a woman on a bicycle (dark as in the image is nearly completely black, as if the women is engulfed in the shadow). There are no citations for “bicycle” in the Index, so I don’t think bicycles play a major role in the book, so it is odd that they play a prominent role on the cover and the summary.

I do not recommend this book to anybody that wants to avoid confusion, chaos, contradictions, and misdirections.

Environmental Photography that Teaches with Beauty


David Blevins. North Carolina’s Barrier Islands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, March 13, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3249-0. $35.00. 200pp. 152 illustrations.

A beautiful collection of photographs of the natural world of North Carolina’s Barrier Islands, with some brief and light descriptions of these scenes. This is a breath of fresh air after some of the heavier scholarly books I just finished. Sometimes pictures just make an observer feel good about the world, and this is the effect made here. The author and the photographer are one and the same, photo-ecologist David Blevins. The environmental angle is only lightly mentioned throughout rather than being pushed on the reader propagandistically. The beauty of nature argues for its own protection.

The book is elegantly designed, with a soft sunset for a cover, a photo of distinctive sand inside the cover pages, two other abstract and descriptively beatific images on the title pages. Some of the interior pages have a different paper texture than others: this is a pretty tough challenge for a printer. A map of the region is uniquely drawn for the purposes of this book, rather than re-used from an archival version. Even the copyrights page is set against a blurred image of streaks in the sky, so pretty much every page has some innovative design elements on it.

The photos capture moments of loneliness, as solitary herons or turtles are caught in contemplative positions, as well as flocks of birds and tree branches mingling into tight communities and giving a sense of general connection. One striking picture is of a hawk standing over an orange-white marsh rabbit that was just struck down and killed and is about to be devoured by the hawk. The hawk looks lost in thought as it has stopped to look back, as if at the observer glancing at the page or at the photographer (20). The text across from this image describes the geological history of the region, with details about a prehistoric river, and how the beach expanded and the landscape changed with a changing climate (21). There are a few photos of seashells, but not just a single seashell, but rather a beach littered with gigantic, near-perfectly, un-cracked seashells. There is also a great image taken with a special night-sky-vision lense that shows a galaxy full of stars in the sky, and a large turtle sitting in the sand up front, with eyes slightly open as if peaking at the camera (170).

Everybody that is interested in taking photographs of nature for amusement or as a profession should study the craft displayed in these images. Their composition, lighting and artistic taste make them outstanding achievements. An inspiring and gently persuasive book.

Uplifting Stories About the Achievements of African-American Presidential Cooks


Adrian Miller. The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 20, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3253-7. $30.00. 296pp. 6.125X9.25”. 36 illustrations.

A humorous narrative about the African American chefs, cooks, butlers, and servers that worked in the American presidents’ kitchen. Political events are put in the background, while the food being served is at center stage. The jacket explains that Daisy McAfee Bonner, FDR’s cook remembered in particular that his lunchtime cheese soufflé “‘never fell until the minute he died.’” If this was a story about Napoleon’s cook and he died in the middle of this meal and the cook stresses that the soufflé fell… historians would interpret it as a barely veiled suggestion that the cook slipped something fall-inducing into the cheese… But, Americans are very anti-conspiratorial, so the story seems to suggest that the cook had no personal attachment to her employee, but was deeply attached to the art of soufflé making, so much so that if it had fallen before the president did, she would have felt like it was a tragic failure far worth than any human death might have been…

The book is indeed about cooking techniques of the highest order as they were used by African Americans in the White House. But it is not a recipe book, with only twenty specific recipes from this kitchen. The rest are probably top secret. This food history crosses over into American history, with descriptions of African American labor during slavery, reconstruction, emancipation, and then entry into the capitalist marketplace.

While the author has written an award-winning book about food before, he is really a judge and an attorney who worked in the White House as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton.

There are great archival photographs across the book that offer insider’s glimpse into giant turkeys, geese and other treats and the staff of chefs that works to perfect each bite. The kitchen hardly looks like a five-star restaurant even in recent images, but rather like a kitchen in a residential semi-sized mansion. The only time I saw a similar kitchen was in photos of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, as he was exiting through the back entrance after an event and went through the kitchen.

Since a lawyer wrote this book, there is a great deal of research and specific information about the structure of the cooking system. There are also reprinted original letters from presidents offering thanks and appreciation to the cooks whose working lives are described.

Wonderful book all around. It should be a pleasure for somebody that just wants to mimic recipes used in presidential kitchens, as well as for researchers who are more interested in the people being served. The African American component is not treated as a handicap or a minority issue but rather as a fact which fades into the background as the great work these people are doing is detailed and applauded.

An Engrossing Narrative of Attempts at and Assassinations of Presidents


Mel Ayton. Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: Potomac Books, February 1, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-61234-856-8. $32.95. 376pp. 6X9”. 30 illustrations.

Most Americans are intimately familiar with how Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, but few might even recall that James Garfield and William McKinley also fell under an assassin’s hand. The book goes further to say that “almost all” American “presidents have been threatened, put in dancer, or survived ‘near lethal approaches’ during their terms.” Plotters tried to off President Hays amidst his inauguration, another nearly shot Benjamin Harrison on a Washington street, and President Roosevelt really was nearly killed in the White House (making the bit about Roosevelt’s cook’s cheese a bit more suspicious in retrospect). Apparently, many such incidents are “covered up,” perhaps to prevent copycats. Around fourteen US presidents’ assassinations or attempts are explored in depth, making up more than one in five of the total. One drawback is that the assassins are treated as fame-seekers due to a “life built on constant failure” (x). Only American history is this critical towards rebellious plots, while cheering on the American Revolutionary plot as well as all other rebellions or assassinations where the American president is leading the struggle. In other words, the Gordon Riots, the French Revolution, and some assassinations of tyrants and lunatics like Osama Bin Laden are carried out on behalf of a just cause that helped to restore human freedom and rights. To dismiss those who attempt an assassination as rebels without a cause is a one-sided approach. Know thy enemy, the proverb says. A true study of assassinations would primarily be interested in why these people took such drastic actions. Were they revolting against an action they deemed to be treasonous on the president’s part? There is a description of Lincoln receiving numerous letters threatening his life from the time of his election and Lincoln’s dismissal of them, but they are not reproduced at length to explain what exactly are the reasons the would-be-assassins giving for such threats. Instead, there is a note that Lincoln questioned their motivations and could not determine them (59-60). Does this mean that the threats simply stated the intention without the reasoning that might have resolved the problem they were fighting for; if there was no rhyme or reason, these assassination attempts sound more like the opposition hiring thugs to intimidate a president into being too terrified to take political actions against them. Did the president’s actions directly lead to their impoverishment? In most of these cases the assassins cause must have been nefarious, as Lincoln’s assassin was pro-slavery, and hardly sympathetic. But with so many making attempts, more so than in most other countries I have read about, perhaps these presidents’ job is to figure out what is causing this extreme dissatisfaction and to fix it in cases where the demands are not damaging to the rest of the populace. Assassins cannot be simply cartoonish villains that interrupt the president’s cheese eating before they’re dragged off to prison. One White House guard, William Henry Crook, reports that “‘Episodes of [violent behavior] were a frequent occurrence in the White House. We dealt with them quietly and they rarely got into the newspapers” (x-xi). There are incidents of violent behavior happening at the grocery store on a regular basis in America. I don’t remember taking a trip to buy groceries where somebody did not glare at me, insult me, or threaten me, and this is the case even in tiny towns, alongside urban areas. It’s just a violent and harassing culture and societal structure. And yet, being constant victims of this intimidation and death threats, this core problem continues to poison America’s foundation. Then again, what can be done about the violent impulse? Well, a civilized education is supposed to train people about proper social behavior, so maybe this basic discipline is what’s missing.

While this book raises some unanswered questions, these appear because so much new information is offered that I have never read about before. Thus, this is a very well informed study through difficult to find sources of the varieties, methods and circumstances surrounding these assassinations and attempts. Each of the stories is told in a novelistic style and engages the reader’s attention, so that it is easy to slip into this book, and difficult to put it down.

Racism and Sexism in San Francisco Transit


Katrinell M. Davis. Hard Work Is Not Enough: Gender and Racial Inequality in an Urban Workspace. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, January 9, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-3048-9. $27.95. 196pp. 6.125X9.25”. 14 illustrations.

This book echoes what I have been writing and thinking about lately. Gender and race bias is rampant today because the Great Recession left the most vulnerable Americans in a difficult position because they are more disposable for the elite than the white men that continue to run America’s businesses. American propogandists have been drumming that welfare is a crutch for the weak, and pushing the poor off it and into undesirable, dead-end jobs that do not give any hope for upward mobility. One of the central groups studied are African American transit women workers in San Francisco. They are kept down by de-unionization, and the resulting shifts in government policies that leave only a few narrow cracks for low-skilled works to insert themselves into the capitalist system. I temporarily worked as a clerk in the Los Angeles transit system, so this is a familiar topic. This history is not only of the present day, but of the initial opportunity shifts that initially created this opening for unskilled, women and minorities when segregation and exclusion started to fade in the 1970s. From there the story moves through the decades into the present where these workers are still kept down by “persistent bias.” One of the last interesting bits of the book are the digressions into discussions about these working women’s mothers, children and other family members. The difficulty of maintaining a work-life balance takes center-stage. This constant stress of the role family plays in women’s life, so much so that it can displace work as a serious concern, always bothers me. Just like men, some women are attached to families and take time out for them, while others are more passionate about their jobs. To stress the family as almost a superior womanly function shrinks these women into a stereotypical role instead of fully making an argument for their rights to be as workaholic or motherly as they feel like being. Another thing that’s a bit odd is that two tables that show that African Americans and especially African American women made up a very small percentage of nationwide transit workers is offered in the center rather than at the start of the book. In my experience in Los Angeles, African American operators were probably a majority, but that’s in 2008 and not back in 1960, when the percentage spiked up to 16% in the South, while it was only 6% in the West (48-9). If there were only a handful of women in a given line, each probably felt very isolated in this experience, so this data should be of more help at the start, so readers could visualize this gap.

The picture on the cover is from inside a bus. The odd bit about it is that the road in front of the bus is completely clear as it is heading down a narrow bridge. The car heading towards it on the opposite side has crossed the white line separating the two directions of the road, and seems to be threatening to crash into the bus. This car and its neighbor seem to be stuck in a traffic jam. The operator’s right hand is not visible, so that it almost seems as if the driver is not in her seat, possibly having left the bus. The only thing that cancels this theory is that the road ahead is blurred with motion, which would only happen to the rails of a bridge if the bus is moving. So, it’s a mysterious image that attracts closer examination.

A multi-dimension study of female African American transit workers’ fight for upward mobility and success in their chosen careers. Table placement and a stress on the family is hardly cause to avoid reading a book about gender and racial equality.

Other Primates Are Smarter Than Us


Julia Fischer. Monkey Talk: Inside the Worlds and Minds of Primates. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, January 31, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-226-12424-7. $25.00. 288pp. 6.125X9.25”. 34 illustrations.

Probably everybody that has heard about or seen documentaries of primates or other animals imitating human behaviors has questioned if they are aware of the meaning behind these actions or if they are simply repeating what they see. Julia Fischer’s answer is an emphatic “no!” She argues that they are fully aware and reasoning. Human babies mimic the actions of the people around them before they are able to explain the motivations for why any one action is performed verbally, so it isn’t a stretch to see monkey behavior as similarly a blend of mimicry and understanding. She examines relationships between different primates from macaques to baboons in the wilds of Barbary to Africa and Guinea towards male rivals, towards children, and in other social interractions. She concludes that humans rather than other primates are the “evolutionary mimics,” while the others use language in much more innovative and creative ways. The first three sections are organized by locations and primate type. Then there is a part on cognition (thinking, social and otherwise, special intelligence, intention, belief), followed by a part on communication (information, signals, sounds, training). Diagrams and photos help to explain some of the theories Fischer uses to strengthen her argument. The photos of monkey communications are highly expressive and look very human-like (107). Spectrogram diagrams help to explain patterns in primates’ alarm calls and other vocalizations.

This book is hardly designed for general readers, who will probably be lost the complex rhetoric employed. While this is not an entertaining read, it does offer some new perspectives that should help to further this barely understood field of study.


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