The Superpollsters: How They Measure and Manipulate Public Opinion

David W. Moore

“Polling dictates virtually every aspect of election campaigns, from fund-raising to electoral strategy to news coverage. And, after our representatives are elected, polling profoundly shapes the political context in which they make public policy. Whatever its faults and limitations, and they are many, polling matters.” In this thoughtful overview, David W. Moore traces the rise of polling from the nascent Gallup Poll’s challenge to the famed Literary Digest poll in 1936 to the presidential election of 1994. Moore profiles pollster personages George Gallup and Lou Harris, as well as lesser-known (although probably more influential) figures such as presidential pollsters Pat Caddell and Richard Wirthlin. Media pollsters are also considered, as in the ways in which the wording of questions and presentation may influence outcome. As vice president and managing editor of the Gallup Poll, Moore himself is hardly unbiased, and readers are treated to less than complimentary descriptions of main rival Lou Harris’ personality and techniques. Nevertheless, The Superpollsters will help individuals understand how polling came to its current place of dominance in the American political process. LP

Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows
Paperback: 426 pages

I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister and My Brother

Edited by Michel Foucault

On a fine summer’s day, 20-year-old Pierre Rivière took in hand a sharp farm implement known as a pruning hook and hacked to death his mother, 18-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother. Observed by a neighbor as he still clutched the bloody tool, Rivière told him, “I have just delivered my father from all his tribulations. I know that they will put me to death, but no matter,” before he calmly walked off. Rivière might sound like yet another nihilist psychotic born of 20th-century malaise, but the year was 1835. Described by witnesses as “an idiot in his village,” Rivière nevertheless produced a 40-page written “confession.” This confession forms the centerpiece of I, Pierre Rivière… along with other documents gathered together by editor Foucault, including medical and legal reports, transcripts of interrogations and statements by witnesses. In addition to these primary source materials, Foucault and several other historians comment on the murder and its aftermath in the final section of the book. These essays situate Rivière’s crime in a time when the medical and legal professions were first contending for status and power, thus creating the basis for beliefs about crime and insanity that continue with us in our own time. LP

Publisher: University of Nebraska
Paperback: 289 pages

Paradise Remade: The Politics of Culture and History in Hawaii

Elizabeth Buck

Using Marxist and Foucauldian theory Buck deconstructs the dominant myth of “Hawaii.” That is, she tells a history, not necessarily the history, of the islands from before contact with the West to the current resurgence of Hawaiian nationalism. While not a musicological text, Paradise Remade focuses on chant, hula and Hawaiian music as a way of “reading” the history of Hawaii. Music in general, and chants in particular, function as a continuing site of resistance—words and meanings being “the only things that Westerners could not appropriate” from Hawaiians. Paradise Remade is a heavily academic work, yet Buck does an admirable job of presenting the underlying theories in a manner that the general public can understand. Nevertheless, pleasure readers may find themselves wishing for a less analytical and more narrative style, as the fascinating subject matter is somewhat overwhelmed by its deeply theoretical framework. LP

Publisher: Temple University
Paperback: 242 pages

The Book of Lilith

Barbara Black Koltuv, Ph.D.

Lilith is the long-haired female demon of the night. In various mythologies she is the embodiment of feminine evil; a succubus mounting men in their sleep, a killer of children. According to the Kabbalists, the letters of her name equal the word screech, and so she is also known as the demon of screeching. She is the first wife of Adam, often shown by medieval artists as a woman-faced serpent, cagily watching Eve devour the fruit of knowledge. Some tales go so far as to suggest that it was Lilith, not the snake, who whispered temptation into Eve’s ear and caused the first human beings to be cast out of Eden. In addition to her negative attributes, Lilith also represents the powerful natures of feminine sexuality and self-knowledge. Clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst Barbara Black Koltuv maintains that these are the very aspects of Lilith’s personality with which modern women must reconcile if they are to attain spiritual wholeness. To that end, The Book of Lilith contains myths, legends, poems and stories from various cultures and epochs reflecting the demon’s many facets, as well as Koltuv’s psychoanalytic commentary and examples from her files. LP

Publisher: Nicolas-Hays
Paperback: 127 pages

Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a 19-Century French Hermaphrodite

Introduced by Michel Foucault

Born in France in 1838, Adéläide Herculine Barbin was to all outward appearances a gentle and religious, albeit flat-chested and hairy, young girl. But she carried a secret, one that became harder and harder to conceal as she entered adolescence and young adulthood. For Herculine Barbin was a hermaphrodite, with genitals that displayed both masculine and feminine characteristics. Legally declared a man in 1860, Barbin committed suicide eight years later, unable to live in a society that both assumed and demanded a definitive (Michel Foucault would say “true”) sex.
In this volume, historian/philosopher Foucault has brought together Barbin’s memoirs, contemporary medical reports and press accounts of his/her transformation from female to male, and a 19th-century fictionalization of his/her story. Foucault himself contributes only the introduction, choosing to let these documents stand on their own merits. While Foucault presents Barbin’s tale as a chapter in the “strange history of ‘true sex’” and identity, readers will delight in its outright eroticism, as the young Herculine swoons among her half-dressed classmates at the convent school, and later falls in love with her fellow schoolmistress (and employer’s daughter) before Barbin’s abrupt and devastatingly public reclassification as a man. A most enjoyable and thought-provoking read. LP

Publisher: Pantheon
Paperback: 199 pages

Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History

Edited by Gilbert Herdt

Most individuals in the late 20th century take for granted what they consider to be the “natural” division of the human race into two genders, male and female, based on the biological attributes of these sexes—the only two to be had. Using both anthropological and historical research, the authors whose work appears in Third Gender, Third Sex explore “how, in particular places and times, people construe not only the natural body,” but what have been called the “cultural genitals.” As a result, in different societies throughout the centuries, there have existed multiple genders and sexes. From eunuchs in Byzantine Rome to “sapphists” in early modern London, from the Berdache tradition in the American West to hermaphrodites in New Guinea, these essays cover a wide range of behaviors, cultures and time periods. While the focus in Third Gender, Third Sex is academic, the writing is largely jargon-free and the subject definitely fascinating. LP

Publisher: Zone
Paperback: 614 pages

Women, Food and Sex in History: Volume 1

Soledad de Montalvo

If you like your history fully documented and objective in standpoint, look for a book other than Soledad de Montalvo’s Women, Food and Sex in History. If, on the other hand, you can’t resist a chapter titled “The Pioneers of Civilization—Sluts In Huts,” then by all means read this chatty, highly “original” and decidedly non-P.C. take on the origins of humanity and religion. According to de Montalvo, a fourth-generation atheist, “the history of food and the history of mankind are indissolubly linked.” What’s more, it was woman who pulled man out of his cannibalistic past and “booted civilization into orbit” by cooking the first soup. But food soon takes a back seat to wild hypotheses and an anti-religious screed, and from there de Montalvo is off and running, comparing one of the earliest known hominid skulls to Leonid Brezhnev or a Mohican-wearing punk rocker, and the Bible to Mein Kampf. Some will consider Women, Food and Sex in History blasphemous, while others will merely find it questionable in taste—but only a very few will find it dull. LP

Publisher: American Atheist
Paperback: 278 pages

Patriots in Disguise: Women Warriors of the Civil War

Richard Hall

History for the most part has not recognized the many women who, dressed as men, fought on both sides during the Civil War. Sometimes their true sex was discovered only after they had been injured or killed in the line of fire. Others were hastily buried where they fell on the battleground, thus taking their secret with them to the grave. Some survived the war and wrote of their exploits, while regimental histories recalled still others. Author Richard Hall turned to the latter two sources to write this mostly anecdotal yet worthwhile narrative of these “patriots in disguise.” While memoirs such as those of Union soldier and spy Sarah Emma Edmonds (a.k.a. “Franklin Thompson”) or Confederate soldier and spy Loreta Janeta Velazquez (who fought as “Lieutenant Henry T. Buford”) are colorfully interesting, it is the stories of women who chose not to publicize their exploits that are truly fascinating. Consider the case of Jennie Hodgers, who joined the Union army as “Albert D.J. Cashier,” and maintained her disguise throughout a three-year term of enlistment. She then dressed and lived as a man until a 1913 accident exposed her gender. While this work cannot match the depth of research provided by a primary-sourced analysis, it remains a fascinating overview of a little-known area of Civil War history. LP

Publisher: Marlowe
Paperback: 225 pages

The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends

Jan Harold Brunvand

If one comes into contact with other human beings, there’s a good chance of hearing at least one urban legend, those fantastic yet somehow believable stories about phantom carjackers in the back seat, or small stray dogs that turn out to be Mexican sewer rats. Jan Brunvand is a folklorist who has made an academic career out of studying urban legends. The Baby Train is his fifth collection of these orally transmitted tales (though they are also increasingly being spread via fax and the Internet). Highlights here are a great chapter on “Sex and Scandal Legends” (including the title piece wherein the regular appearance of an early morning freight train causes the local fertility rate to skyrocket) and a small section devoted to “Drug Horror Stories.” As a special bonus, Brunvand offers handy hints for politely debunking urban legends told in your presence, all without using the words, “I can’t believe you fell for that.” LP

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 367 pages

For Enquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids

S. Elizabeth Bird

John Waters (whose wonderful essay on “Why I Love the National Enquirer” is listed here as a source) once noted that he was convinced “that typical Enquirer readers move their lips when they read, are physically unattractive, badly dressed, lonely and overweight.” Anthropology and humanities professor Bird refutes this and other beliefs in a well-researched study of weekly tabloid papers and their readers. Bird attempts to situate the tabs in “a tradition of oral, folk narrative” in which content is the result of a collaboration between reader and writer “about how the world is or should be constructed.” After sections devoted to each member of the tabloid triad (the Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star), she demonstrates her hypothesis via a case study of the tabloids’ contribution to the mythology surrounding JFK after his death. While Bird is clearly an academic familiar with postmodern theory, For Enquiring Minds is easily readable and relatively jargon-free. And the next time someone discovers your secret stash of tabs, simply quote Bird: “I believe the tabloids are to some extent an alternative way of looking at the world that may be valuable to people who feel alienated from dominant narrative forms and frames of reference.” You won’t hear another word about your reading habits. LP

Publisher: University of Tennessee
Paperback: 234 pages