book reviews

Rubric for a book review of a novel

I want to share a rubric for book review that was developed by Rosie David, an outstanding graduate assistant in our International Studies program at Portland State University. Rosie improved upon a rubric that I had shared with her by rethinking the categories, and creating very detailed guidelines for each section. I hope that this may be useful to some of you in your classes. Prof. Smallman, Portland State University …

Book Review: Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe


"God Of Art, Supreme God Of India Culture" by Sura Nualpradid at
“God Of Art, Supreme God Of India Culture” by Sura Nualpradid at

        Last fall I assigned Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe in my “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” class. The book was very challenging for most students, and I ultimately decided that it might be more appropriate for a graduate level course. At the same time, the work is a foundational text in Postcolonial Studies, which seeks to examine the ways in which Western intellectual history continues to shape programs and expectations in less developed countries. Chakrabarty argues that Western theories are both “indispensable and inadequate.” Inherent to most Western social science theory is the concept of historicism; in other words, there is one evolutionary model that societies pass through, which also happens to be that of Europe.  For this reason, most Western social theorists do not take religion seriously, nor do they necessarily question using Western concepts such as Marxism to understand the class consciousness of Indian workers. In this sense, Chakrabarty demonstrates the Eurocentrism that runs through Western social sciences. …

In Honor of Halloween: Japanese Books on the Supernatural

"Japanese Paper Lanterns" by coward_lion at
“Japanese Paper Lanterns” by coward_lion at

Last Halloween, I discussed my three favorite authors of ghost stories and the supernatural. This Halloween, I want to talk about works on folklore and the supernatural in Japan. Because folklore reflects the fears, ideas and beliefs of a society, it allows us to have insight into social issues difficult to access by other means. For example, the Mexican legend of the Lost Island of Bermeja, which I covered in an earlier post, has reflected that nation’s perception of the United States. Similarly, Japanese beliefs in demons, monsters and ghosts have been reinterpreted by each generation, to give insight into the stories and issues that are meaningful for people of that period. …

Book Review of Tom Koppel’s Mystery Islands

Hawaiian Sunrise by Liz Noffsinger
Hawaiian Sunrise by Liz Noffsinger

Over the last week I’ve been reading Tom Koppel’s book, Mystery Islands: Discovering the Ancient Pacific. Koppel is a writer based in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, who seems to have traveled to just about every island chain and community in the Pacific, albeit as a tourist. His previous book, Kanaka: the Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest looked at why and how Hawaiians came to participate in the fur trade in North America. In this work, Koppel looks at the Pacific as a whole, over a millenia long time-span. …

The State and Brazilian literature: A Retirada da Laguna

Map of Brazil courtesy of Gualberto107 at
Map of Brazil courtesy of Gualberto107 at

In the early 1990s, when I was doing fieldwork on the history of military terror in Brazil, an academic told me about his “projetos da gaveta.” I didn’t understand this term, which he explained referred to projects that one starts but neither completes nor abandons, hence the term “projects in the drawer.” I think that most people, and certainly not only academics, have such a project. One of mine was a study of a Brazilian book about a disastrous retreat during the Paraguayan war called A Retirada da Laguna. I started this project perhaps 15 years ago, and now realize that I’m unlikely to ever finish it for publication in an academic journal, especially as I am happily working on the second edition of this textbook. But for anyone curious to learn more about this marvelous book, and the film that it inspired, I’m posting a copy of my paper below:

Book Review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach

Image of Winter Forest courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at
Image of Winter Forest courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at

As I discussed in an earlier post, I am currently working on a project about Algonquian peoples and religion in the Canadian north. In Australia, Canada and the United States the media generally depicts First Nations with reference to a distant past, while little attention is given to questions of colonialism and postcolonialism. As a result, indigenous peoples are often made invisible in Global and International Studies. People typically think of peoples such as the Kurds when they refer to stateless nations, but less attention is given to indigenous nations. With the “Idle No More” protests sweeping Canada, and the deplorable conditions in Attawapiskat gaining national attention, these issues have now gained global media coverage. …

Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa

I am teaching a new course “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies Theory,” so I am reading broadly right now, particularly in the area of postcolonialism and critical theory. One of the best books that I have read has been Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa, which argues that the roots of French postcolonialism lie in that nation’s long and tortured history in Algeria. He makes the argument by tracing the lives of key thinkers -Camus, Sartre, Cixous, Lyotard, Fanon, Derrida and Bourdieau- to show how their Algerian experience shaped their writings. In Algeria, the key question that people faced was “What is my identity?” Europeans from many nations adopted a persona of being more French than the French, in order to distinguish themselves from the Arab population. But this identity was contingent. For example, Algeria’s Jews first received citizenship, then lost it under Vichy France, and did not have it reinstated until six months after the war. This context shaped, for example, the experience of Helene Cixous, the famous feminist scholar. As the war forced people to take sides and decide on their identity -did they really belong in their homeland?- multiple academics experienced exile. …

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