REVIEWS: Library and Information Science Research
Electronic Journal ISSN 1058-6768
2004 Volume 14 Issue 1; March
Bi-annual LIBRES14N1 REVIEWS\
in this issue:
Bellenir, Karen (Ed.) Alzheimer's Disease Sourcebook, 3 rd ed. (2003). Reviewed by John Jaeger
Cantrell, Geneal G. & Cantrell Gregory L. (2003). Teachers Teaching Teachers: Wit, Wisdom, and Whimsey for Troubled Times. Reviewed by Robin Bergart
Coffman, Steve. (2003). Going Live: Starting & Running a Virtual Reference Service. Reviewed by Jonathan Potter
Mileck, Joseph. (2003). Hermann Hesse: Between the Perils of Politics and the Allure of the Orient . Reviewed by Stephen Shaw
Miller, Dick R. and Clarke, Kevin S. (2002). Putting XML to Work in the Library: Tools for Improving Access and Management . Reviewed by Beth Thomsett-Scott
Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. J. & Stansbury, M. (2003) . Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide. Reviewed by Doris Munson
O'Riley, P. A. (2003). Technology, Culture, and Socioeconomics: A Rhizoanalysis of Educational Discourses . Reviewed by David Alexander
Shannon, Joyce Brennfleck. (Ed). (2003). Leukemia Sourcebook. Reviewed by Kate Mutch
Tanaka, Greg. (2003). The Intercultural Campus: Transcending Culture & Power in American Higher Education. Reviewed by Richard Wisneski
Wakefield , Thaddeus. (2003). The Family in Twentieth-Century American Drama . Reviewed by Wendy A. Rodgers
This new edition of the Alzheimer's Disease Sourcebook provides a wealth of relevant and up-to-date information on this major degenerative neurological disorder. As is noted in the book’s preface, the number of those suffering from Alzheimer’s in the United States is expected to rise dramatically over the next fifty years, assuming no cure is found. While 4 million Americans presently suffer from the disease, it is estimated that approximately 14 million will by 2050. For this reason, reference books such as this one are particularly important.
The sourcebook is divided into seven parts, each of which contains at least 8 chapters. The different parts cover “Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease,” “Other Dementias and Related Disorders,” “Diagnosing and Treating Dementias,” “Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease: Information for the Newly Diagnosed,” “Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease: Information for Caregivers,” “Alzheimer’s Disease Research,” and “Additional Help and Information.” This comprehensiveness of scope, with sections covering all aspects of Alzheimer’s Disease and treatment is particularly helpful. There is relevant information not only for the Alzheimer’s patient, but also for family members and for caregivers. Students researching about the disease will find significant information in part 6; this section contains 20 chapters and is over 100 pages in length.
The final part of the book contains several useful reference aids that make the work an even stronger source for Alzheimer’s information. One such aid is an 18-page glossary of terms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. Two others are a 20-page Directory of Alzheimer’s Disease Resources and a 14 page Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program Directory. There is also a good, 22 page general index.
This new edition of the Alzheimer’s Disease Sourcebook is a valuable resource that deserves a place on the reference shelf of all types of libraries. It is a thorough and clearly-written work on a health subject of growing significance.
Dallas Baptist University
The adage “those who can’t do, teach” is the tacit belief of many outside of the teaching profession who see teachers enjoying a “short” 8-4 workday and two months summer vacation. Yet as every experienced and novice teacher comes to know, teaching is a stressful, challenging, and often draining, thankless, and underpaid profession. Husband and wife team, Geneal and Gregory Cantrell, both experienced teachers, have written this book as a balm for new schoolteachers struggling with the demands and difficulties of learning the craft and science of teaching.
While thin on wit and whimsy, this book does provide a good dose of wisdom on which the beginning teacher can build a strong foundation. The authors identify some of the most pressing concerns for new teachers: student motivation, classroom management, effective communication, and dealing with stress. Through anecdotes, records of teachers’ reflections, and the research literature on best practices and theories of learning, the authors offer up encouragement and advice to address these issues. The prevailing refrain in all their advice is to treat students as individuals and to respect each child’s diverse backgrounds, needs, and aspirations. No one quick fix solution is available or appropriate when it comes to managing a classroom, building community among students, or dealing with stressful, complex classroom situations.
Teachers Teaching Teachers is one in a series of books on pedagogy called Extreme Teaching: Rigorous Texts for Troubled Times that purports to “bring together a commitment to educational and social justice with a profound understanding of a rearticulation of what constitutes compelling scholarship.” Despite the series title, this book does not necessarily address “extreme” teaching situations nor call for extreme measures in teaching. It is not a particularly rigorous text—its scholarship, while sound, is based on well-accepted theories and norms—nor is its message radical or new. The authors rally teachers to continue their professional development and not to be afraid to “move beyond just contributing to our profession and make a real commitment” (141). As authors from the American South, they attempt to assert that teaching must first and foremost uphold and develop the values of democracy and social justice. Disappointingly, they do not pursue this theme as deeply, or with as much “real commitment” as some of their predecessors in the field of pedagogical writing. It has all been said before, and said more eloquently, by pedagogues such as Parker Palmer, John Dewey (who are cited in this book) and Jonathan Kozol.
Nonetheless, this book is a good quick introduction to some of the basic issues beginning teachers face, and will provide some comfort, encouragement, and support to the new teacher. The messages the authors convey, if not new, are certainly important, and bear repeating. Teaching is about caring, and above all is about teaching people, not subjects. There are some heartbreakingly honest accounts of first year teachers encountering children with pitiful lives, and the mistakes and triumphs they experience in these encounters. These are always interesting, and remind all teachers about the human relationship that lies at the core of all good teaching.
Robin Bergart, MA, MJEd, MISt-
Academic Liaison Librarian
University of Guelph
Riding on the wax wings of the dot.com boom and destined soon to fall from the cyber sky, a number of personalized commercial web reference services appeared on the scene in the late 1990s. Many of these services attempted to do online – with the support of advertising dollars but without MLS-trained staff – what librarians have been doing at the reference desk for the past hundred years or so.
Going Live begins with a nostalgic backward glance at the history of reference and at the more recent phenomenon of popular but mostly short-lived commercial web reference services. Within that dual context, Coffman draws on his experience as a pioneer of virtual reference services with Library Systems & Services (LSSI) and considers the possibility of libraries and librarians picking up the mantle of real-time online reference. The popularity of the commercial services in the dot.com glory days, coupled with the inverse trend of increasing Internet use on the one hand and decreasing library use on the other, leads Coffman to the conclusion that an enormous host of information seekers are lost out there in cyberspace – and want help – and librarians ought to be there offering them assistance. Along with that proposition, however, is an uncertainty about how librarians should go about offering their services, who will pay for it, how to market it successfully, and how to cope with success. If you build it they will come, but will you be ready for the onslaught if and when they do?
That question of balancing ambitious marketing with realism about staffing and budgets frames the book’s middle chapters, which delve into the practicalities of starting and running a “live” virtual reference service. Even as the book moves from the historical and philosophical to more practical concerns, Coffman’s style remains consistently engaging and his tone conversational – an experienced pro sharing insights that have been gleaned by firsthand trial and error. The chapter on design considerations delineates the basic start-up options for virtual reference: doing it yourself, collaborating with other libraries (perhaps in distant time zones to achieve 24-hour coverage) or outsourcing it. For calculating staffing needs, Coffman suggests using the Erlang C formula that was originally developed to predict staffing requirements in commercial call centers. A related appendix provides an extensive checklist for choosing virtual reference software based on the services you plan to offer. The next two chapters cover managing and marketing a virtual reference service – including issues of hiring, training, situating the service in an appropriate location (not at the reference desk), soliciting customer feedback, advertising your service, making the link to your service easy to find on your web site, getting press coverage for your service, etc. Coffman does a good job of dissecting the administrative issues involved in running a virtual reference service, illustrating his points with interesting statistical nuggets and real world examples. The concluding chapter, which is followed by two lengthy appendices and a pared-down version of Bernie Sloan’s “Virtual Reference Services Bibliography,” returns to the philosophical and speculative tone of the book’s opening pages.
Going Live is an unusual blending of highly practical advice and acute reflection on the past, present and future of virtual reference. It is well-written in an easy, casual style and infused throughout with perceptive questions and thought-provoking facts, figures and anecdotes. It is the type of book that falls under the heading of “professional” reading, and I would recommend it as such because it is highly informative and authoritative, combining good research and in-depth firsthand knowledge; aside from that, however, I am pleased to recommend it because it is written with a graceful intelligence and deft touch all too often lacking in works of this sort.
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Eastern Washington University
Hermann Hesse was one of the foremost German writers of this century, known both for his quiet political stances as well as his overt flirtation with Oriental thought. He was especially drawn to the thought structures of India, specifically Hinduism and Buddhism. Long a staple of Comparative Literature classes in this country, Hesse has often been seen as the standard-bearer for the Eastern point of view. His novels are steeped in the language and ideas of the East, and it is a natural and easy assumption to implicate the author as holding these ideas as well. He is also known for his social commentary, and his rebelliousness in the face of censure. Other luminaries share this critical scrutiny: Martin Heidegger springs to mind as a figure whose political ideas have a hard time being seen as ancillary to his philosophy. As Mileck makes clear, however, this fascination was due as much, if not in fact more, to the vibrant mythological structure as it was the concomitant ideology, and in fact was indicative of a turning-back to the West.
The tight structure of the text clinically analyzes the dual issues separately. Rich in research, this book is the fruit of a lifetime of Hesse scholarship. A drawback to the text is the lack of a synthesis that illustrates why these two themes, albeit important and pervasive throughout the Hesse literature, should be brought together in this format. Perhaps the shared import is the disjunction between the views Hesse held (both the political and spiritual), and the views (often mistakenly) attributed to his writings.
The book begins with a discussion of Hesse’s political background, as well as the implications that his work alternately had and did not have on contemporary German intellectual and popular culture. One of the stronger points to this section is Mileck’s subtle recognition that while many of Hesse’s writings seemed prima facie political, they actually focus on issues of morality. Mileck presents us with an apolitical Hesse, withdrawing from social activism while still making social commentary.
Much of this withdrawal was due to the reception of his works by the political and literary figure of the day. Initially liked, Hesse suffered ignominy by the hands of the Nazis, only to re-emerge after the War as a cultural icon. However, this new status also eventually faded. Mileck brilliantly captures the reason for it, attributing it to the contemplative and quietist nature of the author himself. The Germany in which Hesse found himself winning waning acclaim during the 1940’s “…was no more taken with patient reflection and trying self-realization than its counterpart in the twenties had been.” (43) For the rest of his life, Hesse continued to swing the pendulum of acclaim, ‘flirted’ with Communism and America, but never found the groundswell the author implies he deserved.
The second half of the volume opens with a summation of the literature surrounding Hesse’s involvement with the Orient. From a dissection of dissertations to a survey of key articles, Mileck critiques the leading scholarship. It seems at times as if many scholars are faulted simply for not being as penetrating in their study as Mileck, but such hubris is usually justified.
As with many such contemporaneous authors, this involvement attributed to Hesse typically betrayed more the leanings of the readership, than those of Hesse himself. One of the more persuasive lines of reasoning in this portion is Mileck’s mature understanding of Hesse’s blending, or more properly, synthesis, of Eastern philosophy with that of the West. This point comes across best when it is stated bluntly that the involvement Hesse had with the East, and in particular India, was an “…aesthetic and not religiophilosophical attraction…” (155) Specifically, Hesse’s work Siddhartha is usually seen as autobiographical and an affirmation of the benefits of the Eastern Weltanschauung, but in fact the opposite is claimed by Mileck. Hesse remained firmly rooted in Western ideology, and some of the more non-strictly-Buddhist themes of Siddhartha illustrate Hesse’s desire not to blend the East and West, but to enhance some of the sharper Western doctrines with those of the East.
A solid addition to the field; one which will hopefully spark discussion and interaction with one of Germany’s more provocative sons. If this is the case, perhaps we will catch another of the waves on which Hesse’s influence rides, and another generation of readers will be challenged by the reticent sage of the Occident.
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Prairies View A&M University, Texas
Miller, Dick R. and Clarke, Kevin S. (2002). Putting XML to
Work in the Library: Tools for Improving Access and Management.
American Library Association, Chicago 2002. 208 pp. ISBN
XML is one of the most exciting things happening in libraries! Miller and Clarke provide an excellent synopsis of the benefits of XML for Internet information gathering in the introduction. They caution, however, that traditional practices should be reassessed in light of the potential of XML and not to drop everything that is done well in the haste to adopt XML.
The first chapter guides the reader through the basics of XML, including the beginnings from HTML, through the variants of SGML, and into XML. Markup, elements, attributes, and structure are defined and explained, along with other necessary XML information. The beauty of this chapter is the ability of the authors to dissect a potentially complex subject and bring it to a level that is understandable by the novice yet still provides sustenance for the experienced reader.
Standards and recommendations, including XML schemas standardized by the W3C and RELAX NG (Regular Language for XML Next Generation), and XPath, are presented in the second chapter. As well as discussing the standards and their various ancestries, Miller and Clarke add comments on how libraries can best apply them and provide frequent commentary on their experiences. The chapter also provides a detailed and informative discussion of style sheets.
Chapter three provides an in-depth look at XML schema. The authors outline a possible procedure for the development of a working schema in a step-by-step format. They also provide an informative discussion on the ways XML can be used to assist libraries. The authors continue with a look at the implications of XML on MARC coding and on the use of AACR2 rules. Miller and Clarke also introduce XOBIS (XML Organic Bibliographic Information Schema), an experimental schema which they hope will address some of the issues arising in the digital library environment.
Tools that will work with XML to perform additional functions are presented in Chapter four. The authors focus on Open Source solutions as this is their experience. They do provide some names of licensed alternatives and direct the reader to other sources of information. Editors, including BitFlux and JEdit; transformers, such as Saxon and Cocoon; and XML browsers are discussed. The authors clearly note that their discussion of tools covers the ones that they feel the readers of the book will be most interested in and highlight other sources of tools for those readers who want more comprehensive lists. Miller and Clarke not only list the tools but provide informative comments on the pros and cons for each product.
Current trends and future possibilities, including XForms, Scalable Vector Graphics, and VoiceXML, are discussed in the last chapter. The authors present ways in which the Lane Medical Library is incorporating XML, including transitional E-journals and working with MARC records.
As well as providing informative and readily-useful content presented in an easy-to-read and highly understandable format, Putting XML to Work in the Library offers a number of useable additional features. There are numerous relevant examples that clarify the text content. An interesting example is the dedication to the authors’ families as it is written in XML code and serves to further the reader’s understanding of XML. The bibliography includes web sites, if available. There is an excellent comprehensive index that includes references to symbols used in XML, although most are spelled out with only a few indexed as symbols. The extremely detailed table of contents makes it easy to locate desired information.
Putting XML to Work in the Library is highly recommended for any library collection. Library staff involved with web site creation may want a personal copy for easy reference.
Science Reference and Liaison Librarian
University of North Texas
Virtual Inequality goes beyond who has computers and access to the Internet. It explores how computer use, technological skills, the Internet, information literacy, and even basic literacy skills affect everyday life and influence one's opportunities. The digital divide is given a broader definition by breaking it up into four categories: access divide, skills divide, economic opportunity divide, and democratic divide. Each of the four divides is discussed in a separate chapter and statistical results are summarized in easy to scan "What Matters" boxes.
The sample data was accumulated by surveying over 1800 people nationwide about their skills, attitudes and experiences. The survey included people in high-poverty tracts in all fifty states and a statistical control. Results were analyzed using multivariate regression tables. The tables and the survey are included in appendices at the end of the book.
The chapter on access includes a review of eight major studies on computer and Internet access. Survey results are compared to two of the studies. Interestingly, all three studies "report persistent gaps in access to the Internet based on race, ethnicity, education, and income."
In the skills divide chapter, basic literacy is shown to be crucial to information literacy and technical competence. The lack of appropriate computer skills and lack of information literacy are also factors in the economic divide and democratic divide. Public access sites would be one place to learn these skills. Unfortunately, survey results indicate that the people for whom the public access sites are intended, the low-income and less-educated, are the least likely to use them.
The economic divide chapter focuses on the rising skills requirements for many jobs and attitudes about how computer skills affect economic opportunity, online job searching, and lifelong learning. The democratic divide looks at how willing people are to use the Internet for online voting, political participation, and e-government.
The last chapter highlights patterns common to all the divides. Barriers and resources for bridging the divides are listed. Current public policy for overcoming the most important policy issues of access, skills, and education are examined and public policy recommendations for the future are given. Recommended.
Systems & Reference Librarian
Eastern Washington University
ISBN: 0-8204-5793-0. $29.95
Readers of O’Riley’s Technology, Culture, and Socioeconomics would be advised to take a step back from the day-to-day grind of twenty-first century life and watch the sunrise from a remote hilltop. This would help put them in a proper frame of mind for approaching this work. The book discusses the technology education that has developed in the educational institutions of today. It is also much more, and that is where the relevance to library research comes in to play.
She suggests that while recent revisions to educational standards are more diverse and “high tech” than traditional industrial education curriculum were; the focus on industrial production and design remains.
Writing across a series of plateaus (as opposed to chapters), O’Riley takes the reader on a rhizoanalytic journey that is intended to be “fluid, flexible, conjunctive, regenerating, and fun” (p. 29). She asks the reader to see what we have learned not to, and to hear what has been silenced. Constantly disrupting the standardized practices of research writing, she approaches her theme from a variety of angles. In the process, the reader is introduced to an impressive review of feminist, poststructural, and postmodern theories. The work also gives voice to the philosophy and perspective of the indigenous peoples of North America. Part of the fun of this work is the disruption of the traditional linearity of texts with Coyote and Raven comments of a trickster nature, and a “dataplay,” produced by the author and her students, that demonstrates how the student’s voice was also incorporated into the author’s technology instruction.
O’Riley suggests that there is a complex political, social, and cultural history behind the educational technology curriculum which has marginalized female students and students from a diversity of cultures. The revision, which stresses “high tech” and computer skills, further disenfranchises alternative views of technology. The problem is that the discourse on technology education tends to build on itself. This self-referencing process creates a mirage of authority based on the common sense nature of new developments. That is, new develops have an air of common sense about them when they are consistent with the precedents upon which they are based. This becomes problematic when the historical conditions that surrounded the origins of the discourse are forgotten. In the beginning choices were made based on the specific historical context of the time. O’Riley argues for the importance of teaching the history behind industrial education and its support of capitalistic production. By teaching the history, you remind students that choices were, and still are, being made. Choice is only an option when people are aware of different potentialities. Standardization is a potential threat to both choice and future adaptability if the historicity of the standard is forgotten. O’Riley argues that technology literacy in education should affirm and celebrate difference.
This book is part of a larger discussion that should be of interest to librarians. Most of our standard practices are firmly rooted in the “modern”. As postmodern scholarship continues to develop, we need to consider the implications that discourse has on how we operate. For example, the way we classify materials has an epistemology that privileges certain viewpoints over others. We need to keep that in mind and consider whether or not our practices need to change as our society becomes increasingly pluralistic in the twenty-first century. We might also question the nature of our acceptance of information literacy (as it is currently being defined) as a goal. Are we really helping students become better users of information, or are we teaching information illiteracy by disenfranchising perspectives that lie outside of the standards we teach?
This book is not for tourists; those that Damarin (cited on p. 67) describes as bringing an arrogant attitude to unfamiliar territory. It is about disruption and alternative perspectives. The book questions many of the assumptions in which the world of academia operates. In that respect, this book would be a welcome addition to college and university libraries.
Reference and Electronic Resources Librarian
South Dakota State University
This reference book provides a general overview of Leukemia as well as further details about childhood leukemia, adult leukemia, treatments, and life during and after leukemia. There is a small glossary of terms that are related to the disease. Especially interesting is a section of facts and figures that are broken down by state.
The overview section contains an explanation of diagnosis methods, a chapter on understanding blood cell counts, information on how to find a doctor who specializes in a particular form of leukemia, and some financial issues that should be considered.
The next two sections deal with childhood and adult leukemia. Each section defines a specific type, gives the incidence of that particular variety, treatment strategies, survival rates and current research. Most helpful is information for parents to prepare themselves and their children for treatments.
The final two sections deal with various treatment options and life during and after treatments. The book deals with the types of treatments ranging from drug therapy to radiation to transplantation therapy, with explanations of side effects, benefits, and risks for each treatment option.
Also provided is a reproducible guide for medical record keeping. A valuable resource throughout the book are lists of resources, references and suggested further reading that will provide supplemental information for a particular need.
This book is easy to read and a wonderful overview of a disease that impacts many lives. Each year nearly 30,000 adults and 2,000 children learn that they have leukemia. The comprehensive treatment of the subject makes this a valued addition to library reference collections.
Public Services Librarian
Natrona County Public Library
Greg Tanaka attempts to demonstrate several aspects of current American culture: people’s “inadequate training” in understanding racial and ethnic diversity; some conservative think tanks’ overemphasis on “categories of difference” to heighten fear among “some white Americans”; and progressives’ failure to go beyond multiculturalism and binary oppositionality. He further attempts to dispel what he sees as the misconception that many Americans do not want to learn about diversity, that there are no alternatives to Western Eurocentrism and multiculturalism, and that it is not possible to build a community out of multiple ethnic cultures. Although ambitious in his objectives, Tanaka makes an admirable and insightful case for “interculturalism,” or ways a more “participatory” democracy can be achieved through interdependence, complementarity, and personal connections to one’s past and place.
Tanaka focuses on American universities, which he claims have a “lead role” in better preparing the U.S. for its future in a global society. He presents two case studies—one concerning a university that tried to become “the first multicultural college” in the U.S., the other concerning a private Catholic university that tried to become the first “intercultural campus” in the U.S. (both of which are given fictitious names)—as well as the results of a survey by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at UCLA of over 25,000 white students attending 159 U.S. colleges and universities from 1985 to 1989.
In the first case study, Tanaka examines a small, private arts college in California which attempted to become multicultural by, among other things, hiring a distinguished African-American as its president, recruiting a large number of students of color, and requiring courses in American cultures for all students. Tanaka interviews several of the college’s administrators and students, observes several campus activities, and reviews documents concerning the college’s plan to make itself more multicultural. Ultimately, the college’s “experiment” stalled, which Tanaka, in his analysis, attributes to the college’s failure to address the needs of white students, over-emphasis of “binary opposition” to Western Eurocentrism, and exacerbation of campus fragmentation. He constructs this chapter as an “experimental ethnographic text,” in which the pages are divided in two columns, one side consisting of storytelling based on those he interviewed, the other his analysis of comments and observations along the way.
Tanaka makes several insightful observations in his chapter analyzing the 1985-1989 CIRP study. He notes students’ satisfaction with campuses that emphasize ethnic/racial diversity, the importance of students actively participating in cross-cultural activities rather than simply taking courses in race and ethnic issues, and the fact that simply admitting students of color does not in itself lead to cultural competence or racial understanding. He further speaks at length about the ways in which white students who join sororities and fraternities oftentimes are isolated from cross-cultural activities. He argues for universities to hire more minority faculty, offer formal training in interethnic communication, and have a comprehensive, multi-faceted plan for diversity.
In his own four-year study involving a small private Catholic university’s attempt to be intercultural rather than merely multicultural, Tanaka employs “action research” in which he plays the role of ethnographer and assistant to the campus’s leaders in implementing their plan. Among the university’s achievements, he explains, were students and staff telling their own histories, hiring more minority faculty, and receiving administrators’ support for their work. Tanaka acknowledges the program’s shortcomings as well, such as the university’s failure to expose more white students to new sources of diversity. A major thrust of interculturalism that distinguishes it from multiculturalism is its emphasis on including white voices in discussions of diversity, as opposed to focusing primarily on differences and dichotomies. Tanaka goes into great depth exploring this difference, and the ways intercultural approaches can succeed at colleges and universities across the country.
The book’s greatest weakness lies in its writing style. Far too often, the author tries to clarify his points with phrases such as “in other words,” “stated differently,” and “simply put,” which, ironically, do more to distract from his main points than reinforce them. His use of social and cultural theorists shows that he has done his research, but again, at times, he belabors their use rather than simply footnoting them and making his case. The chapter with two parallel texts is an interesting experiment, but ultimately a failed one; the side notes often distract from the points he tries to make, and occasionally are superfluous.
Despite these shortcomings in writing style and presentation, Tanaka makes effective use of quantitative and qualitative analysis of past research, personal narrative, and action research. He makes a persuasive case for intercultural approaches to dealing with diversity in post-9/11 America while acknowledging what further research and programs are needed. Indeed, his book may help make “interculturalism” a familiar part of the educational lexicon in addressing diversity at American universities and across the country as a whole.
Richard Wisneski, Ph.D.
Kent State University
This book is an interesting explication of fourteen plays viewed through the lens of Marxist sociological criticism. Wakefield suggests that the central subject of American drama is the family, and that the capitalistic culture of twentieth century America forces family members to perceive one another as commodities. To Marx, the value of a commodity lay not in how it could be used, but whether and for how much it could be traded. Wakefield examines how members of filial relationships value one another only in terms of the economic advantages each can provide.
The plays explored are, in chronological order, Phillip Barry’s Holiday (1928), Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (1934) and The Little Foxes (1939), Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (1939), Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1945), Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959), Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962), Lonne Elder III’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1965), Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band (1968), David Rabe’s Streamers (1976), August Wilson’s Fences (1985), and Cheryl L. West’s Before It Hits Home (1989).
Wakefield states that his primary reason for choosing to analyze American plays is not only that he enjoys them, but also that they have been largely overlooked by academics. In stating this, he seems to suggest that he came to the genre with his sociological point of view intact. That is, rather than studying American plays and finding them exemplars of filial commodification, one guesses that he chose commodification first and drama second. Abraham Maslow might accuse Wakefield of having only a hammer in his toolkit, and seeing every problem as a nail. Nevertheless, Wakefield’s readings of the plays are individually illuminating, if somewhat numbing as a whole due to the essential sameness of each reading.
In chapters devoted to marriage, father-child relationships, mother-child relationships, and non-traditional families, Wakefield illuminates the dialogue of each text and provides some interesting commentary on the economic focus of various relationships. His analysis of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night extends through all but the chapter on non-traditional families, and helps to bring some continuity to an otherwise cafeteria-style analysis. The chapter on non-traditional families is perhaps the most compelling, as it introduces sexuality as a form of currency (this was not a significant focus of the chapter on marriage), particularly in the discussion of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band. Notably, this chapter also covers the broadest chronological territory (1934-1989), thus giving the reader the best sense of the century promised in the book’s title.
Wakefield challenges the reader to accept a sometimes-questionable Marxist view of twentieth century relationships. For instance, he asserts that “the twentieth century marriage relationship is based on economic factors, not religious or romantic factors (5).” Removing the Marxist spectacles, one might consider that twentieth century America probably marks the first time and place in history in which marriages are as frequently based on romantic or religious factors as on purely economic factors. Economics alone characterized the marriage contracts between suitors and fathers for centuries, when daughters were family commodities forbidden by social norms to attempt to obtain their own economic security.
The writing in this book is marred by a dizzying repetition of the phrase “twentieth century capitalistic American society” and the gloss “commodities, or things [or objects].” The repetition of each occurs literally dozens of times. For example, “[Playwright X] intends to dramatically show that the twentieth century capitalistic American society commodifies individuals by making people see others as objects rather than as human beings” (81). The writer should consider that the reader has probably gathered this point by page 81 (or page 6, for that matter), and that such repetition might force a frustrated reader to stop reading and go shopping instead.
As a revised dissertation, The Family in Twentieth Century American Drama is a worthy piece of scholarship that might have been better served by a little more revision. Wakefield’s textual explications are interesting, well-chosen, and soundly presented. The critical foundations in Marx and Baudrillard are outlined in a mere three-page introduction (readers might appreciate a deeper grounding in the critical theory), and then hammered out (Maslovian pun intended) through repetitive diction. This book will be a worthwhile addition to an undergraduate library, but it may leave the higher-level researcher wanting.
Wendy A. Rodgers
Information Services Librarian
University of Guelph Library