Freedom Socialist book reviews: A fascinating range of titles from our contributors

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Most Freedom Socialist writers are volunteers whose “day jobs” range from lawyer to social worker and restaurant server. Many are published authors of poetry, novels, professional literature, or political works — a sampling is reviewed below.

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Lila, the Revolutionary, by William T. Hathaway. Nascent Books, 2014. Reviewed by Andrea Bauer

Can one little girl save humanity? If she’s “Lila,” she can.

The hero of William Hathaway’s fable for adults is an eight-year-old living in an unnamed post-colonial country. She may be fictional, but her world, as the author sketches it, is completely real. It is a graveyard of dreams where survival is precarious and bettering one’s conditions is almost inconceivable. But not for Lila, who refuses to accept the impossibility of change.

Many readers praising Hathaway’s novella have emphasized its inspirational quality, as the indomitable spirit of a child sparks answering chords in adults who then rise up and win against all odds. And this is certainly a strength of the book.

But the book is thought-provoking as well as inspiring. As he describes the unfolding of a fantastical revolution, Hathaway captures some political home truths beautifully. For example: how fighting back energizes those in struggle, even through losses; the necessity for leadership; how it happens that women find themselves in the forefront; and much more — even how surplus-value operates!

Hathaway is an anti-war activist and prolific, award-winning author. He is generously offering Lila, which one reader dubbed “Che meets the Brothers Grimm,” free to Freedom Socialist readers. Contact him at william.hathaway@ewetel.net.

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The Linguistics, Neurology, and Politics of Phonics: Silent “E” Speaks Out, by Steven L. Strauss. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. Reviewed by Toni Mendicino

Steven Strauss is uniquely situated to have authored this incisive, brilliant book. As a socialist, Ph.D. scholar in linguistics, and practicing neurologist, Dr. Strauss is one of a handful of people who have the linguistic skills, scientific background, and political chutzpah needed to challenge the snake-oil charlatans peddling “neophonics” to U.S. public schoolchildren.

Strauss instead argues for meaning-centered reading, which has been ejected from the curriculum in favor of “testable” phonics instruction mandated by government policies under George W. Bush and now Barack Obama. Strauss documents the big-business agenda driving neoliberal education “reforms.” These turn public schools for the working class into factories that sacrifice the joy of reading — along with critical reasoning, democracy, and respect for teachers, parents, students, and community.

Strauss painstakingly and humorously skewers the pseudoscience practitioners who are myopically “Hooked on Phonics” and brain mapping (neuroimaging) as the answers to learning problems. He warns of a new Lysenkoism, a disastrous Soviet program under Stalin that squashed academic freedom and creative input while promoting false scientific solutions that served ideological interests.

The author’s prescient analysis of the corporate forces hijacking U.S. public education leaves the reader armed and inspired to fight back. Strauss further develops his critique of corporate-inspired pseudoscience in his September 2014 Monthly Review article “The Political Economy of Dyslexia.”

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Human Information Interaction: An Ecological Approach to Information Behavior, by Raya Fidel. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012. Reviewed by Tamara Turner

Raya Fidel caps her internationally renowned career as a researcher, teacher, and author with this major contribution to information science, which won the 2013 Book of the Year Award from the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Most current commercial systems are designed first and then tested to find out their helpfulness. Fidel demonstrates clearly that to design a useful information system, one must first analyze the needs of the intended users, and then build a system based on this analysis.

The book introduces a method called Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA) to carry out such an examination and lead directly on to design. CWA explores the environment in which users operate and the conditions that shape their needs — that is, their ecology. Examples in the book are taken from studies done with real people at work. The analysis focuses on a group of people working in similar conditions, e.g., high school students or sanitation workers. The ecology consists of various dimensions, such as the culture of the organization in which they operate (including the predominant gender there), the type of work done, the kinds of decisions workers make, and the working conditions.

The basis for this people-centered philosophical approach is stated in the introduction, where Fidel defines herself as Marxist and feminist.

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