Book  Reviews

Kathy Campbell, Book Reviews Editor
  


Graham, A. & Monteith, S. (Eds.) (2011).  The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.  Volume 18: Media
Hess, Earl J. (2012). The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
Hutchison, C. (2012). Apples & Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America
Lair, M. H.  2011). Armed with Abundance: Consumerism & Soldiering in the Vietnam War
Ouchley, K.  (2011) Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
Peacock, J. L. (2010). Grounded Globalism: How the U.S. South Embraces the World
Potter, C. B. &  & Romano, R. C. (Eds.). (2012). Doing Recent History: On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History that Talks Back
Ruffin, P. (2011). Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Seery, J. E. (Ed.).(2010). A Political Companion to Walt Whitman
Stipe, M.  (2011).  Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith

 

Graham, A. & Monteith, S. (Eds.) (2011).  The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.  Volume 18: Media.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.  439 pages.  ISBN 9780807871430.

Since 2006, the editors of the 1989 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture have been updating and expanding the original one-volume work into 24 volumes, each following a format similar to that of the eighteenth volume, Media.  The book begins with lengthy introduction to “Southern Media Cultures,” followed by several dozen three-to-four page essays on topics of broad interest, such as “Civil War in Film” or “Spanish-Language Newspapers.” The remainder of the book is more than 100 short entries on specific topics such as Show Boat, “Dead Elvis Presley on Film” or “WDIA.”  

While nearly all the entries’ authors are academics, and many of them are from southern universities, quite a few are from British universities.  (This is an affirmation that southern culture is of interest to scholars beyond our own backyards.)  Despite the academic provenance of the entries, each is written in an accessible style appropriate for readers of all backgrounds.  There is sufficient documentation of sources and precise tracing of scholarly precedents and current controversies about each topic, making this volume suitable for academic as well as public libraries.  When applicable, the economic and technical aspects of media production are covered along with the actual content of the films and shows.

For the purposes of most researchers looking for a background on southern film, television, radio and journalism (literature, music, and sports have their own volumes in the series), this volume will serve as an excellent introduction. Common themes are followed through history, important figures are highlighted (and their importance explained), and the exploration through media of distinctive features of southern culture is analyzed in an even-handed way, neither defensive nor condemnatory.  This even-handedness is particularly applicable to the volume’s treatment of segregationist media – the importance of James J. Kilpatrick or the Citizens’ Council Forum is addressed within its historical context, and criticism of them is presented as it first appeared in contemporary sources.

However, the volume lacks a certain sense of balance.  Its focus is, perhaps rightly, on both southern producers of media and the way in which the South has been portrayed in non-southern media.  There is little discussion of the ways in which national media have shaped the South, especially since the advent of television.  And it is sometimes irritating to find a true southern media figure, such as Dewey Phillips, left out when media figures whose main link to the south is the happenstance of being born there (Chicagoan Oprah Winfrey, New Yorkers Stephen Colbert and Charlie Rose) receive detailed treatment.  

Some topics, such as “local color” or the careers of entertainers who excelled in both film and music, are duplicated between this volume and others of the encyclopedia. However, the varying editorial emphasis of each volume means that, aside from some basic facts, the coverage of the topics is completely different in each volume.

Despite any criticisms, this volume is an essential overview of one of the most important aspects of southern life and belongs in libraries of all sizes.

Steven Knowlton

 

Hess, Earl J. (2012). The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 416 pages. ISBN 978-0-8078-3542-5

Earl J. Hess, the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in history at Lincoln Memorial University and author of a number of well-received texts such as Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River (2010) and Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West (1997) with Dr. William L. Shea, has produced an outstanding study of the Union conquest of the Western theater in The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi. Hess examines how the western Union troops, who were tackling a much larger geographic area than their counterparts in the east, were able to surmount myriad geographic challenges by applying new technologies to produce logistical positives that the Confederates could not counter. Well researched, solidly written, and superbly organized, Hess has produced an outstanding addition to Western theater scholarship.  

The Western theater of the Civil War stretched some 600 miles from the north to the south and 450 from the east to the west between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Covered with a number of rugged mountain ranges, rivers, and streams, the region was a logistical nightmare for both armies. While Confederates hoped to use rail to overcome these problems, the Union leadership mobilized a riverine force to move troops and supplies forward and occupied large portions of the South. Once occupying a space, Union leadership had to deal with countless problems caused by antagonistic civilians, corrupt trading practices, guerrilla forces, and a growing mass of Union refugees and slaves at their camps. According to Hess, overcoming all of these challenges gave the Union forces reasonably high troop morale and relatively stable leadership. As the Union armies and river forces hammered the Confederate borders, the Rebel armies were simply unable to stop the roughly synchronized advances of Union forces. When Union armies had to abandon their riverine advantages, they rebuilt rail lines or foraged off the land to attack targets of strategic value such as Atlanta. By the time of Sherman’s March to the Sea in late 1864, the mastery of these factors diminished realistic Confederate resistances in the west. 

A fine piece of scholarship, The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi is written in a manner approachable for both scholars and Civil War buffs. It is well organized into a preface, sixteen chapters, and a conclusion. Additionally, the work includes notes, a bibliography, and a thorough index. A number of illustrations are judicially used in the text, but one fault with the text involves maps. Hess opts for one map in a text that mentions a number of campaigns, other movements, and locations. While some texts overuse maps, a few more wisely placed maps could help the reader with geographic references. This one fault does not lessen the authoritative work of Hess. This is an outstanding text suitable for use in general and academic libraries and anyone interested in the Civil War in the west.       

Dr. Derek Allen Clements
Instructor of History/Social Sciences
Black River Technical College 

 

 Hutchison, C. (2012). Apples & Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America.  Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.  288 pages. ISBN: 978-0820342443
 
Apples & Ashes is a venture into the old, but previously avoided world of literature concerning the Confederate States of America and its short lived existence. In the introduction, Hutchison stresses that “the story told in the following pages is that of both the losers and the ‘bad guys;’” consequently, it is a story that needs to be told.

The author is an ideal candidate to discuss this challenging topic since he is an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.  Heavily involved in other projects concerning the Civil War South, Hutchison has developed his knowledge of the Confederacy and this turbulent time period in American history and produced Apples & Ashes, his first book and the first literary history of the Civil War South.

The birth of a legitimate south-based literary journal came in 1834 with Richmond printer Thomas Willis White’s Southern Literary Messenger. The discussion of the pro-Confederate novel, Macaria; or Altars of Sacrifice reminds readers of a time when the end of the war was uncertain and the ability to publish anything in the South was challenging. The author points out that only around fifty-nine pieces of fiction were published in the South during the Civil War.

The book continues to cover various forms of literature around the time of the Confederate South. The analysis of poetry includes an intriguing perspective on broadsides and the words used to describe prominent wartime figures such as President Abraham Lincoln. Hutchison and his contemporaries agree with the general consensus that Southern poetry and verse during this time is lacking in quality.

In contrast, music is another literary outlet that was very popular and rivaled tunes produced in the North. While the author refers to other Southern songs, he focuses on the song “Dixie” and gives a significantly different perspective than taught. Originally written and first published in New York, “Dixie” was a song sung by both Southerners and Northerners, but eventually the south claimed it. The discovery of the very moment “Dixie” began to represent Confederate Nationalism along with how society continues to regard this song today is very interesting reading.

Apples & Ashes, a work developed from extensive and thorough research, also contains an index and a list of figures important to the book. The author clearly did his homework and the intended audiences for this book include researchers in pre-1900 sociology, literary academics, and those who are interested in the historical impact of Confederate literature.

The libraries that should include this book in their collection include academic libraries, public libraries, art libraries, and libraries interested in developing their music collections. 
 
Paula L. Webb, Reference and Electronic
Resources Government Documents Librarian
University of South Alabama

 

Lair, M. H. (2011). Armed with Abundance: Consumerism & Soldiering in the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 295 pages.  ISBN 9780807834817.

When most people think about war, combat and suffering are usually the first two things that come to mind.  What we don’t think about is the massive support that an army at war requires.  In her book , Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War,  Meredith H. Lair shows us the daily life of troops and support personnel in non-combat areas, and the lengths that the military went to in order to keep the troops’ morale up in a war that was growing more unpopular by the day.   

The author discusses the social and culture image of the Vietnam War and the war veterans.  She gives statistics on how many soldiers actually saw combat (depending on the time period, only 10-25%), discusses the inequalities of the draft and background information on how the soldiers ended up there – by choice, chance or coercion.  There are chapters on the division between the combat troops and support personnel (grunts and REMFs), the extensive American military base operations throughout Vietnam, the recreational facilities available to the troops and the rampant consumerism that was encouraged by the military.   The book finishes with a look at the American military in Iraq, where the “comfort-for-morale” concept continues. 

The book is well written and well researched.  It includes a glossary of abbreviations and acronyms, a dozen black and white illustrations, an index and an extensive list of sources.  These sources include military archives, government publications, official newspapers of over 150 military units stationed in Vietnam, and other books and journal articles.  There are also tables that show sales figures for various types of merchandise and multiple exchanges and concessions.

Meredith H. Lair became interested in the Vietnam War as a child, when her father would relate stories of his time served in the conflict.  One thing she had trouble with, and credits with her continuing interest in the war, was his description of the “suffocating luxury” at the large base where he was stationed.  Dr. Lair is a professor at George Mason University, where she teaches history courses on war and society.   In addition to this book, Dr. Lair has two other upcoming books on the Vietnam War and society.

This book is an important addition to the study of the Vietnam War and the American military.   It is highly recommended for colleges, and larger public libraries with an interest in American or military history. 

Zinia Randles, Senior Library Assistant 
James E. Walker Library, Middle Tennessee State University 

 

Ouchley, K. (2011) Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country.  Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.  264 pages.  ISBN: 9780807138595 

In a collection of over 150 short essays and stories, Kelby Ouchley has brought the bayou country to life for those who don’t have the opportunity to live a mere stone’s throw from those rich, murky waters, as he does.  A wildlife biologist by trade, Ouchley’s essays prove him to be an engaging and entertaining historian, teacher, and storyteller by nature.  A lifetime in the bayous of Louisiana has given him incredible insight into the nature and needs of the plants and animals native to that intricate ecosystem.

The first section of Bayou-Diversity is entitled “Biota:  The Plant and Animal Life of a Particular Region.”  In this case, the region includes over 400 bayous in Louisiana.  He begins with plants, both native and introduced.  From descriptions of Spanish Moss, which is neither from Spain nor a true moss, to an explanation about how the clearing of canebrakes throughout the region has led to the probable extinction of the Bachman’s warbler, to how he contracted poison ivy from examining the stomachs of deer, which happen to enjoy its leaves, Ouchley considers nothing in the natural world undeserving of study.  In some 25 essays, he describes the habitats, histories, benefits, and uses of a variety of native plants, as well as threats that invasive ones pose to the environment.

Next are 60 essays about wildlife.  One notable essay describes how close this country came to exterminating its own national symbol, the bald eagle.  Others explain the life cycle and countless deaths caused by mosquitoes, as well as the various dangerous and inebriating methods physicians used for the treatment of malaria.  Ouchley even amusingly writes of the autumn day a twig girdler beetle “hell-bent on procreation started a chain of events” that included crashing his computer, setting off smoke detectors, and making an electrical transformer explode like a cannon.

After plants and animals, Ouchley writes about what he calls “modi-operandi,” in which he focuses on connections.  He expresses that he wants to impress on readers one thing, if nothing else – that humans are connected to the natural world. Some things which appear to have nothing in common may very well be directly related.

In the second section of Bayou-Diversity, Ouchley writes about the ways in which humans interact with the natural world.  He calls them encounters, collisions, and junctions.  The encounters are stories about objects, places, people, and experiences that bring nature and people together.  The collisions show how devastating human actions can be to the environment.  Finally, the junctions are examples of nature healing when humans learn to coexist peacefully with the natural world.

Kelby Ouchley worked for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife refuge biologist and manager for 30 years.  His conservation work earned him the Louisiana Governor’s Conservationist of the Year Award, presented by the National Wildlife Federation.  In 1995, he began writing and narrating a bi-weekly natural history program for public radio.  The essays in Bayou-Diversity are a selection from those programs.

LunaDara Kelondra
Memphis Public Library 

 

Peacock, J. L. (2010). Grounded Globalism: How the U.S. South Embraces the World. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. 311 pages. ISBN 0820334723.

The cover of James L. Peacock's book was designed to illustrate his point about Grounded Globalism, a term he uses to describe how a region can hold onto its identity while also establishing a relationship with other places in order to influence each other in hopefully healthy ways. Staring out from a red background is a Confederate flag imprinted with the common phrase, “Made in China”, which reminds the audience of how the U.S. South fervently holds on to its’ heritage, while also trading influences and ideas with other regions. The author encourages his readers to find a way to see past the trees and participate in the forest life, while still being anchored in self-established core values. Instead of polarizing an aggressive “us versus them” attitude or fully assimilating until there is nothing individual left, one can instead acknowledge and work consciously with the “model of movement” pattern: regional identity, opposition to national identity, rebellion, defeat, resentment and oppression, transmutation by global identity, and grounding of that identity in sustained regional identity. Evidence of steps one through five are seen throughout the world in various practices. Peacock mostly focuses on step six in his book, while step seven is the author's evaluation of that process of energizing transmutation.

Using the United States’ South as the setting for his work, he presents such interesting facts as, “Around 1830, the South began crystallizing a regional identity that gave its diverse populations a sense of unity founded on a black-white dualism and an agrarian economy.” (32) It was during this time when the region began to stress the mportance of “kin” and homogeneous relationships, with such tools as family trees and genealogical stories. Through oppositionality, the South and its citizens began to internalize “perceived” dialects and stereotypes to create their own collective identity. Since that time until present day, there is a pressure for this collective image
to meld with more global norms.

According to Peacock, globalism is perceived to be a study of diversity acceptance versus polarization. He suggests another alternative—finding commonality without converting from one's core foundation. Instead of walking in another's moccasins, one can stride alongside and build relationships through companionship. Unfortunately, his efforts feel forced, trying to fit imprecise concepts into an exact setting. The points are boring and repetitive. In addition, his examples and stories
oftentimes feel randomly presented with no relative background. His colleagues may be also disappointed to find that his thesis evidence is mostly encompassed inside these tales rather than analytic studies. Honestly, the text reads like a textbook, with the audience expecting comprehensive questions at the end of each chapter.

As a Kenan professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Peacock uses qualitative and quantitative methods, but tends to lean more on distinctive anecdotes, rather than studies and statistics, while blurring the interdisciplinary lines of demographical statistics, geography, anthropology, and psychology. The index and over 30 pages of bibliographical references may be the book’s only saving factor. University and college academic library scholars, especially those in Southern Studies, looking for qualitative citations in this field of local versus global research will have plenty from which to choose, but the text itself proves mostly unconvincing without solid evidence for the author’s thesis.

Christi M. Underdown-DuBois
Cataloger,
Ingram Books
Christi.Underdown-DuBois@ingrambook.com
 

 

Potter, C. B., & Romano, R. C. (Eds.). (2012). Doing Recent History: On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History that Talks Back. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 311 pages. ISBN: 9780820343020.

People involved with researching and writing recent history may face more unique and complex issues than other historians who focus on the distant past. In Doing Recent History, Potter and Romano have compiled a number of essays from historians and archivists who provide examples of these difficulties.

One such problem is that not all recent sources of historical documentation may be seen as legitimate by other historians. Various essays in this book state that oral histories, television programs, and video games may not be taken seriously as historical artifacts, even though they document history. However, for some recent events, sources like these may be the only ones available to consult while conducting historical research.

Technology is also mentioned in several essays as being both a problem and an advantage when working with recent historical artifacts. Unless specifically collected in some way, modern forms of communication like text messages usually do not leave any records behind that can be housed in archives, unlike more permanent traditional sources, such as letters, for historians to use in future research. Technology has also created an environment where there can be too many sources that proliferate online in a short period of time. In the essay “Not Dead Yet,” Romano, this book’s co-editor and an associate professor of history, mentions that this information glut may be of concern to researchers, but she believes that a good historical narrative can be written without having to consult every minor source on a topic (pp. 28-32). On the other hand, technology has allowed many primary source documents to be accessed easily online.

Providing perhaps the most interesting topics for librarians, various essays discuss issues of privacy, copyright, and access to information. Archivists have to balance legal issues and ethical principles from exposing damaging or embarrassing information about people who are still living, while also trying to keep information about these people as fully accessible to researchers as possible. Copyright, ownership of archival documents, and the effect both of these aspects have upon research is discussed in the essay “Who Owns Your Archive” by Gail Drakes, a doctoral candidate and faculty member in history at New York University, and in other essays throughout the book.

This book is divided into five sections with two to three essays in each section. There is an index and a list of contributors. Of particular interest to Tennesseans is a description of Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive in the essay “Do Historians Watch Enough TV?”

Even if you are not a historian, any information professional will learn something from this book, as it covers a large range of topics including those discussed above as well as the commoditization of information, the effect interviewers have upon the oral histories they collect, and much more. This book is highly recommended to all historians, archivists, and librarians. 

Maya N. Berry, Acquisitions & Public Services Librarian
Plough Library, Christian Brothers University
mberry2@cbu.edu 

 

Ruffin, P. (2011).  Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings.  Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.  184 pages. ISBN: 9781570039867
 
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, meandering means to wander aimlessly or casually without urgent destination.  And that is exactly what Paul Ruffin does in his latest collection of essays, many of which are reworked pieces from his newspaper column.  In the preface of this book, the author states, “You name it, and I have written about it or will tomorrow,” which is a good description of the variety of essays in Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur.

This book is divided into three sections:  “Things Literary, More or Less,” “On Likker and Guns,” and “From ‘Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash’ (An As-Yet Unpublished Memoir).”  Ruffin writes about the big and small events of life (drinking, guns, and, yes, women too) in an engaging manner that encourages the reader to tag along on his adventures.  Some adventures are unique, such as the time he was invited to ride along in a decrepit DC-6 on a flight from Hattiesburg to San Juan to deliver an underwear shipment. On another occasion, Eudora Welty told Ruffin that he looked like a “Florentine painting” (initially impressed, Ruffin eventually discovered that Eudora Welty said nice, albeit strange, things to a number of writers and editors so he was not in an exclusive club). Most of his meanderings, however, will resonate with readers either because they know somebody exactly like the person Ruffin is describing or they think, “Been there, done that.”

Paul Ruffin was the 2009 Texas State Poet Laureate and is currently a Texas State University System Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at Sam Houston State University. He has authored two novels, three collections of stories, three earlier compilations of essays, and seven collections of poetry. His meanderings are a pleasure to read, and this book, although not a necessary purchase, can be recommended for public libraries and popular reading collections in academic libraries that have money to spare.

Kathy Campbell, Head of Reference
East Tennessee State University 

 

Seery, J. E. (Ed.).(2010). A Political Companion to Walt Whitman. Lexington, KY:  University Press of Kentucky. 368 pages. ISBN 9780813126548.

Filled with 13 essays covering topics ranging from political and personal democracy, romantic devotions to cities (specifically New York), and Americans' obsession with death and immortality, A Political Companion to Walt Whitman demonstrates the many-faceted work of a classic American poet through academic analysis. All of the contributors, hailing from collegiate backgrounds of political thought, science, and theory, as well as law and government, proclaim Whitman as the infrequent sung hero of simultaneously the political and personal aspects of life. More directly, the essays tie 19th century values to modern situations, some as recent as the gay rights movement, feminism, and Barack Obama's presidency, and inspire inner debate for the reader between the priorities of ethics (specifically whether it is better to make decisions to honor individuality, i.e. democracy, or the great majority opinion, i.e. spiritual community).

Despite the dry writing style of many essays, the book is ideal for interdisciplinary readers with interests in political science, American history, and English literature.  In fact, this volume belongs to the series, Political Companions to Great American Authors, which specifically publishes the work of “political theorists, philosophers, and literary critics and scholars whose works examine classic authors”.

The book includes an index for the whole collection, as well as individual bibliographic references for each chapter. Following the long tradition of citation carousel, the authors refer to each others' arguments to support their own theses or break down the opposing viewpoint. The essayists also include whole sections from not only Whitman's more well-known poetry, such as “Song of Myself” and “O Captain! My Captain!”, but also his lesser works, such as “Now Lucifer Was Not Dead” and “Here the Frailest Leaves Of Me”, as well as illustrations from particular editions. It is indeed a special treat to readers to see the replicated title pages and frontispieces of the 1855 and 1860 editions of Leaves of Grass.
 
As a resource studying Whitman's civic action and self-professed patriotism toward his city, country, and the human race, this volume should inspire lively discussions and would be a fine addition to academic libraries.

Christi M.Underdown-DuBois,
Cataloger, Ingram Book Company
Christi.Underdown-DuBois@ingrambook.com
 
 

Stipe, M. (2011). Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith. New York: Akashic Books. 128 pages. ISBN: 9781617750236

More of a coffee-table book than a classic literary tome, Two Times Intro is a unique collaboration of Michael Stipe from the band REM, rock legend Patti Smith, and guitarist with a Polaroid camera, Oliver Ray. Stipe was lucky enough to meet his hero, tour and take pictures with his retro camera of Smith and her band during their reunion tour. The book is basically a scrapbook of that experience – a collection of grainy, black and white photos with little to no explanation of their subjects. Fortunately, the back pages contain a semi-index listing each subject “in order of appearance.” In a few places, other Patti Smith friends and fans – such as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith group, and Frances Yauch (mother of the late Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys) – fawn over the subject and describe their relationship and special experiences with her. These snippets add to the overall arty-scrapbook feel as they seem to be typed, photocopied, and hand-pasted onto each page. Two Times would interest diehard Patti Smith or Michael Stipe fans and those who remember the New York City scene when CBGB still existed. Readers who enjoyed the book Just Kids might also be interested to see a more current Patti Smith on tour. Public or academic libraries with a strong music and/or fine arts collection should consider this book. 

Gayla B. Hall, Librarian and 
Learning Resource Center ManagerFortis Institute of Nashville 

 

 

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