Sunday, 30 October 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World" by Joann S. Lublin

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World
by Joann S. Lublin
ISBN: 978-0062407474
Copyright October 2016
Hardcover, 304 Pages 

Earning It makes for a rather light, quick and enjoyable read. This book features countless inspirational and candid anecdotes of powerful and intelligent women contending in the male-dominated executive world. Delivered in an exceedingly positive and hopeful tone, this motivational book fittingly speaks to females from all walks of life, and certainly for aspiring female executives. The incredibly inspirational nature of the book of course does not preclude it from being a greatly invigorating read for men, including those keen to gain a deeper understanding of women’s struggles in the executive world. 

Narratives of formidable female “trailblazers”—those who successfully ascended to “the pinnacle of management”—are forefronted in the book. Corporate leaders such as Cathie Black, who was the president of Hearst Magazines, and called “the First Lady of American Magazines;” Meg Whitman, chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise; Irene Rosenfeld, chief executive of the global snacks manufacturer Mondelez International; Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox Corporation, and more. 

Interweaved into these anecdotes of female chief executives are critical matters such as the imperative need to challenge board bias and sexism in the context of pursuing corporate directorship; of actively engaging oneself in the strategic advocacy for other women aspiring to ascend the corporate hierarchy; and the pivotal role of sponsors and mentors in career advancement. 

Inseverable from the discussion include notions of gender discrimination and gender stereotypes, manifested in forms such as the inequitable standards required of women versus men in the corporate workplace. With the prevalence of the gender pay gap, the book also shares stories and related advice and morsels of wisdom pertaining to compensation bargaining. There was a rather interesting discussion of strategies employable by women executives particularly in terms of the management of men, especially men inimical to female leadership.

One cited statistic in the book was particularly memorable; the evidence of the appalling disparity in opinion between female and male directors on the importance of board gender diversity. The book covers a range of other intriguing matters, examples include the rather curious notion of women’s self-fabricated glass ceiling; the reassuring implementation of corporate training programs targeting unconscious bias; the concept of diversity dividend; and even brief discussions of the female turnover rate in skilled professions. 

The uncorrected proof copy of the book inevitably contains errors expected to be resolved by the time of publication. It is undeniable however that the mistakes littering the pages of the book diminishes the reviewer’s overall enjoyment of the book. It was unpleasant to come across almost every instance of “company” in the book being spelled as “concern”—example sentences include “the first sisters to command Fortune 500 concerns,” “about 54 percent of the sixty-seven concerns in the Standard & Poor’s 1500 Index,” or “big cosmetics concern hired her.” 

Whilst the anecdotes in the book are qualifyingly engaging, the introduction however does not do the book justice. The rather cliched approach and ideas adopted alongside bland and ordinary rendering of the subject matter in the introduction fails to distinguish the book from the competitive sea of nonfiction works dealing with a similar subject. 

The rather lackluster introduction of the book very unfortunately could potentially translate into lost sales and readership. Particularly in the case of failing to convince or to provide a compelling reason for readers to further engage with the book by virtue of merit of the introduction, or in the instance of those who base their purchase decisions on impressions left by browsing the beginning of the book. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

REVIEW: "Critical Readings: Media and Gender (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies)" by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Critical Readings: Media and Gender (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies)
by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner
Open University Press
Copyright December 2003
Paperback, 384 Pages

This is a definitive piece of literature on media and gender studies. The text’s fascinating research and incredible educationality makes it an essential tool in the pedagogy arsenal; the in-depth investigations and intellectually-stimulating examinations if strategically and effectively studied will help promote intellectual maturation in students. 

The earnest study of the notion of femininity as manifested in the media comprise a critical realm of exploration. It is certainly profound to learn of the multiple associatory, and supposedly more inferior, denominations to which femininity is ascribed to—the feminine as linked to the visual instead of the verbal, and to the physical instead of the cerebral; the feminine being typecast to that which is devalued and trivial, of a low public status and associated with mass culture; and with feminine discourse dishearteningly occupying a marginalized space in society. 

The exhaustive investigation of the cult of femininity as applicable to women’s magazines is one such example of amazing coverage in the text. The profound syntheses and evaluations churned out are rather mind-blowing. Of equating the presentations of anything but femininity—femininity is the standard bearer for females—to being mere “theatrical display[s]” or tools with ulterior purposes, for example the performance of toughness and the cosmetic featuring of “tough” women in the pages of the magazines. The scope of coverage made compelling especially so with the explicit statement that women’s magazines indeed play consequential roles in “formulat[ing] gender in our culture.”

The text will amaze the reader with the rich critical, theoretical and intellectual possibilities and depths to which the concept of femininity is examined to intersect with the various forms of media. Television talk shows for example, are designated to be a feminized media genre; the shows argued to be a product of the feminist movement as a challenge to patriarchy. Prefacing the introduction of the idea that women therapists of daytime talk shows typically come out of bourgeois feminism, the chapter furnished very interesting supplementary information on the “four broad types of feminism,” of which includes as well Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and poststructural feminism. As a further testament to the academically-vigorous approach undertaken by the text, the analytic discourse on television talk shows encompass such angles including the discussion of the significance of rational emotive therapy (RET), the Freudian theory, or comments on the power hierarchical structure inherent in the shows. 

Page Three in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun was cited for exemplifying the wave of sexualization of media platforms, whilst five interesting case studies of recent prime-time American television shows were elucidated as a springboard for a poignant exploration of the portrayal of lesbian women on American television. The latter was achieved through the analysis of for example, narrative closures and its implications on the patriarchal order or socially acceptability of being a lesbian. At the same time, the text again goes beyond the agenda of merely explicating issues of concern interlinking media and gender; the functionality of the technique of utilizing textual ambiguity for films, for example, was covered. 

The interlocking relationship between the feminine gender and media are also expounded through media genres such as soap opera texts, computer game play, consumer discourses, American films, and as contextualized in British rock music journalism. Embedded in these examinations are further discussions of the subordination of women, of the systemic exclusion of women from historical or current discourses, of unsubstantiated gendered assumptions, negative stereotyping of Aframericans and Latinas, and more. Discussions of masculinity, for example its commercialization in the form of laddism, or the “new lad,” and more, are also found within the text.  

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

REVIEW: "The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline" by Jonathan Tepperman

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline
by Jonathan Tepperman
Tim Duggan Books
Copyright September 2016
Hardcover, 320 Pages

The Fix is immensely informative, tremendously engaging, and remarkably researched. The book makes for a synchronously enjoyable and educational read; the awe-inspiring narratives of nations successfully overcoming seemingly insurmountable trials are deeply inspiring. The book is commendably well-written, and contains a plenitude of salient statistics, intriguing details, and thoughtful evaluations, and is highly recommended for ardent students of government, politics and policy, and for passionate and shrewd global citizens. 

Extraordinarily profound matters are covered in the book. The author for example, documented the way Botswana has miraculously defeated the Resource Curse that has mercilessly and staunchly afflicted many resource rich nations in Africa or otherwise; the country “bucked history, development theory, and the law of averages” to becoming the “the envy of Africa.” Rwanda on the other hand, was highlighted for its president Paul Kagame’s strategic post-genocide recovery plan, particularly the creation of the fittingly revolutionary gacaca courts embodying a blend of justice and reconciliation that has rather effectively helped rebuild the nation. 

The Indonesian government was spotlighted in the book for having waged a successful war against Islamic extremism, radicalism and terrorism, and for thereafter elevating the country to becoming “one of the more successful democracies in the world,” and especially to becoming an oddity—“a safe and stable beacon of open, decent, and tolerant rule”—in the Muslim world. When it comes to Brazil, the author lauded the dramatic success of the Bolsa Familia antipoverty program launched by former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva—a voice of “financially principled populism”—in tackling poverty and inequality.

Discussion of Canada’s immigration revolution was distinctly fascinating. It was certainly profound to learn that Canada has avoided having “a single anti-immigrant riot in half a century” despite such forms of turmoil having plagued “virtually every other” advanced industrialized democracies. Or to learn of uniquely American circumstances that led to the country’s shale revolution—a complex interplay of factors including the US landowners law—landowners are granted rights “not just to their turf but to everything that lies beneath it as well”—; support and investment by the US government in the industry; and even individuals such as the oilman and celebrated visionary George Mitchell for initiating the technique of “slick-water fracking.” 

The eclectic range of issues are discussed in the book through singularly interesting perspectives and details. Examples include the notions of multiculturalism, pluralism, and mandatory bilingualism as advocated by Canada’s former prime minister and shrewd pragmatist Pierre Elliott Trudeau; the Rwandan government’s role in adopting drastic maneuvers such as banning “sectarianism” and “divisionism” in order to turn the country into a race-blind nation; or even the seemingly ludicrous but apposite parsimony—government officials and ministers were banned from engaging in supposedly lavish expenditures such as using chauffeurs or flying first class—displayed by Botswana’s first president Seretse Khama, as the leader of the country which has ranked as the world’s number one diamond producer by value. 

In discussions of South Korea, the country was highlighted for its pace and continuity of growth surpassing that of “any other state,” and its transition from a destitute to a wealthy nation. The author traced the country’s fascinating progress from developmental dictatorship to democratization, and thereafter to liberalization under the stewardship of leaders such as the authoritarian Park Chung-hee, or the dissident Kim Dae-jung. 

A particularly astounding detail the author furnished regarding Brazil’s rather successful implementation of Bolsa Familia pertains to its inspirational role to numerous foreign countries; the US has since notably launched Bolsa Familia-inspired programs such as Family Rewards 2.0 and Opportunity NYC. On the other hand, it is beyond intriguing to learn of the Indonesian former president Yudhoyono’s strategy against Islamist extremists which involved appropriating the Islamists’ main campaign themes. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

REVIEW: "Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis" by Stella Bruzzi, Pamela Church Gibson

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis
by Stella Bruzzi, Pamela Church Gibson
Copyright January 2001
Paperback, 416 Pages

Fashion Cultures presents a profound, multifaceted, and critical examination of the cultural phenomenon of fashion. This book is an excellent anthology of articles penned by an eclectic range of experts from diverse disciplines. The text’s quality academic writing along with exhaustive research makes it an excellent resource for the fashion scholar, researcher, student, practitioner, and even for academically-inclined fashionistas. The book will also be valuable for the ardent fashion reformist venturing to drive changes within the fashion industry; incredibly meaningful and in-depth investigations into the subject matter are conducted, that upon devouring the book, the reader will emerge with an acutely heightened understanding of the complexities, subtleties, and mechanisms related to the intriguing realm of fashion cultures. 

Fashion consumers will also stand to benefit tremendously from consuming the contents of the book. Particularly with the intimate intertwining of fashion with our contemporary society, it is ever more pertinent and prudent for the consumer to be equipped with appropriate knowledge to shrewdly negotiate one’s position and relationship to the phenomenon of fashion, and to be empowered with purposeful understanding pertaining to the way fashion fits into one’s consciousness and everyday life. 

Personally, am liberated by contemplating assessments that lucidly explicate and verbalize the significance of the occurrences of fashion in my life. Especially for the female reader subconsciously and emotionally enslaved to specific facets of fashion, indeed it is only by beginning to cultivate an awareness and understanding of critical issues that one could progress upon the path to regain lost power, and to reevaluate the extent to which fashion would be thus allowed to encroach upon one’s autonomy in life. 

The exploration of the intricate relationship between fashion and feminism is most compelling and intriguing. Incorporated in the discourse are profound ideas such as the rather indicative notion of the "tyranny of slenderness” along with its subversive promotion of “a form of misogynistic revulsion against the fleshy female body,” which relates to another memorable phrase, the “female grotesque.” Interestingly weaved into the examination include ideas of the patriarchy—in particular relating for example, the “cultural construction of femininity as pure appearance” and the cult of the supermodel as patriarchal fabrications. Other interesting feminist conceptions discussed include the notion of the lofty exclusivity of the iconography of fashion, make-up coupled with fashion as forms of “objectification,” and even the earnest call for the formulation of “a feminist theory of fashion.”

The British fashion industry is explored rather prominently in the book. Unmistakably fascinating would be analyses of fashion as a culture and artistic industry, and in its relation to ideas of national identity and branding, or even cultural strategies. 

Iconic fashion designers, both Britain and otherwise, were highlighted for their idiosyncrasies; their designs and collections for example, were explored through diverse and illuminating perspectives. The designer Martin Margiela was spotlighted for boldly appropriating the catwalk to question “predetermined ideas of the runway presentation;” the author zeroed in on Alexander McQueen’s controversial "Highland Rape" Collection fashion show. A sampling of other designers discussed include the likes of Paul Smith—Britain’s “arguably most influential” contemporary menswear designer—, the legendary John Galliano, the preeminent Hussein Chalayan, and the talented Vivienne Westwood. 

The book’s superb coverage of a further eclectic range of issues would make fashion and academic fanatics swoon. Critical rendering of the notion of the spectacle as contextualized in fashion is distinctly astounding, as is the related allusion to the postmodern work "Society of the Spectacle” as analytic support. The examination of fashion as a "dialectical image” is yet another example of the profound territories the book journeys into. Abstractions of performativity and masquerade, the antithetical femininity versus masculinity, the interrelation between fashion and popular music, and fashion imagery and the idea of the dandy—in its distinct manifestation of “masculine fashionability, bodily display and metropolitan neurosis”—, are but further evidence of the immense intellectual depth the book ventures into.

The theory of glamour is beautifully articulated, aptly exemplified through the case study of Gianni Versace; the art of make-up is explicated philosophically, through theoretical studies of the idea of the mask and the face; the costume or the notion of physical representation in film is rather substantially surveyed, of which a rather absorbing concept and methodology of phenomenology—“the philosophy of exhaustive detail and description”—emanated, to the benefit of cerebral readers. 

Fashion photography of course is a salient component of the fashion discourse and equation; the coverage in the book satisfactorily does the medium justice. A singularly outstanding sentence on the subject matter exquisitely and compactly conveyed the intertwinement between photographic styles and the different movements—“modernism gave to fashion photography a graphic and geometric influence; surrealism inspired dream-like images,” whilst realism depicted models in "action and in movement."

The business terrain trodden by the book is similarly impressive. Commercial and technological strategies employed by fashion designers for example are highlighted—the technique of mass customization in micro-marketing; the collection of biometric marketing data and the utilization of high-tech body measurement booths by Levi’s; or discussions of demand fragmentation, store design aesthetics, marketing messages, and more. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

REVIEW: "The Power of the Actor: The Chubbuck Technique – The 12-Step Acting Technique That Will Take You from Script to a Living, Breathing, Dynamic Character" by Ivana Chubbuck

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Power of the Actor: The Chubbuck Technique – The 12-Step Acting Technique That Will Take You from Script to a Living, Breathing, Dynamic Character
by Ivana Chubbuck
Copyright August 2005
Paperback, 400 Pages

The Power of the Actor is an absolutely divine text explicating the magnificent Chubbuck Technique. This utterly educational reference is a godsend for impassioned actors devoted to perfecting, and dedicated to further their understanding and appreciation of, their craft. This book adopts a highly effective and systemic approach to explicating the intricacies and subtleties of the acting technique, and is ideal for both the amateur and more advanced actor. 

Acting lessons and exercises in the book are creatively and flexibly devised by the author. In another testament to the expertise of Chubbuck, her authority and credibility on the subject matter, along with her extensive experience in the industry both as an actor and as an acting coach, she aptly inserted in the book an abundance of incredibly illustrative, and excellently and contextually explained, examples, involving prominent actors she had coached including Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Jessica Biel, Halle Berry, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Stafford. It is surely a definite bonus that the book is also highly entertaining.

Each step in the Chubbuck Technique is clearly elucidated and covered in meticulous detail—the pivotal Overall Objective, the compelling Obstacles, the strategic Substitution, the imperative Beats and Actions, the essential Moment Before, the indispensable Doings, the immense applicability of the Inner Monologue, and more. 

The book is effectively structured in such a manner as to optimize the actor’s learning; the intricacies of the technique are consistently and progressively drilled throughout the book. Amongst the eclectic range of valuable tools and lessons the reader will learn and internalize include the significance of Personalization as applicable in a diverse range of acting situations; the importance of the concept of paralleling in both emotional and psychological contexts; the cardinal notion of emotion and degree of emotionality in terms of making decisions pertaining to acting choices; and of fully exploiting the power of, and maximizing the benefits of, incorporating the imperative human element in one’s acting work.  

Each section of the book effectively serves its function; both Part II and III beautifully and strategically complement and supplement the content in the first part of the book. Part II in particular is incredibly intriguing; illuminating behavioral formulas are furnished, some accompanied with profound psychological and emotional lessons. The actor will learn ways to induce organic feelings of a cocaine, or crystal methedrine high, a psychedelic high, a marijuana high, to feel withdrawal symptoms for heroin, or to feel pregnant or drunk. 

In terms of highly workable and effective, meaningful—they allow the actor to engage in self-discovery—and also fun, exercises, examples include the activity of compiling one’s Emotional Diary or Fear List. The latter being an intermediate step employed as part of the technique of generating organic fear—“the most difficult feeling for an actor to re-create.” In another instance, the actor will learn exercises designed for him or her to create emotional or sexual connection with another actor.

The material in Part III of the book notably exceeds one’s expectations. The section provides a comprehensive demonstration of the Chubbuck Technique as applicable to a select script. The acting student yet again will be bestowed another opportunity to witness and thus further internalize and assimilate the technique as contextualized in a separate frame of reference.  

Certainly, the book also contains memorable and inspirational morsels of advice and wisdom. One can only imagine the tremendous influence it will have on the actor advised to make “high-stakes” acting choices and script analysis decisions that will potentially and greatly enhance his or her performance. Or the actor reminded time and again to avoid for example, clichéd or commonplace interpretations of a certain plot or character that otherwise would only guarantee him or her being lost amidst the monumental competition in the industry. 

The book is almost flawless. Chapter 20 however felt unwarrantedly brief. The material covered on coaching the actor to organically feel like a paraplegic or quadriplegic ought to have been fascinating, the cursory coverage however potentially leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied and even inadequate; the brevity of content appears at worst incapable of instilling in the actor sufficient foundational material to confidently play such a part. At the very least, one illuminating and interesting acting example, or some practical tips as well, could have been furnished.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

REVIEW: "A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World" by Robert Simonson

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World
by Robert Simonson
Ten Speed Press
Copyright September 2016
Hardcover, 352 Pages

A Proper Drink makes for an incredibly light, effortless, and entertaining read. The narrative shines the spotlight on an eclectic range of figures, both prominent and eccentric, in the delightful universe of cocktails. 

The extensive range of practical lessons, success stories and personal anecdotes featured qualifies the book as a satisfactorily inspirational piece of work, especially so for the aspiring bartender, bar owner, or cocktail pundit. 

The organization and format of the book bestows upon the reader the experiential impression as if he or she enjoyed privileged access to almost a week-long industry cocktail event. An event whereby the reader, as one in the audience, will have the opportunity to be engaged intimately and directly by industry practitioners who generously share their wisdom and personal experiences.

The narrative is distinctly people-centered; the book will turn out to be a great fit for the reader who exhibit a predilection and preference to immerse oneself in meaningful life stories, and who derive immense pleasure learning from the personal journeys undertaken by a fellow human being.

The book is such a relaxing and easy read that it will make a great vacation read, even more so for the tourist venturing upon a drinks, cocktail and bars discovery trip in a foreign culture, city or country. It is also worth mentioning that the book indeed contains such a multifarious range of content that will prove ideal to be harvested as superb conversation starters, for both drinks industry mingling events, or even casual social settings. 
With the text revolving around classic Sazeracs, tequilas and rum, bitters such as the Abbott’s bitters and more, one can only imagine the excitement that could seize drinks and cocktail enthusiasts and lovers as they devour the book. Included as well are potentially motivational mentions of innovative creations by industry practitioners, such as the creative Campari-laced Jasmine, or the inventive Gin-Gin Mule—a “Mojito (a rum drink) crossed with a Moscow Mule (a vodka drink), but made with gin.”

In reading the book, the reader will also get to entertain and inform himself or herself with certain interesting, if not peculiar, cocktail trivia. An example would be the rather quirky circumstance that supposedly led to the invention of the Vodka Espresso, or Espresso Martini. One could also gain awareness of certain seemingly forgotten cocktails such as the Cordial-Medoc and the Forbidden Fruit, or concoctions such as the Daiquiris or the Watermelon Martini through immersing oneself in the book. 

The book surveys a marvelous range of figures pertinent and relevant to the cocktail narrative, characters ranging from famed bartenders to cocktail historians—one named himself “Dr. Cocktail”—, to the likes of cocktail columnists—for The Village Voice and Food Arts—and even cocktail book collectors—a man named Greg Boehm had apparently “amassed more old cocktail books” than anyone else. 

The book expectedly spotlights salient figures in the cocktail world. Men such as Dale DeGroff who “probably remains the most famous bartender in the world;” Simon Ford who exemplifies the modern profession of the “liquor brand ambassador;” Dick Bradsell, a crucial figure in the British bartending scene; and of course, the atypical female in a predominantly male cocktail world—the women Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders, both protégés of DeGroff.

The narrative is also aptly contextualized in for example, the cocktail renaissance or the cocktail movement, including as well the elucidation of cocktail cultures, or their lack thereof, in certain regions or cities such as Washington, DC. 

The book also considerably chronicled bars such as the arresting Rainbow Room, the prominent Milk & Honey, and the Pegu Club. It also detailed for example, the morphing of the London Academy of Bartenders (LAB) into “the most influential bar to emerge in the wake of the Atlantic.”

As promised, the book delivers a handful of cocktail recipes for classics such as the A La Louisiane, the Boulevardier, and the New York Sour, modern classics such as the Trident, and the likes of the seemingly oddly-named Penicillin cocktail, the Chartreuse Swizzle, or the expensive Laphroaig Project composed of ingredients qualifyingly “high end in the extreme.” 

The abundance of allusions to seminal drinks or cocktail books in A Proper Drink could even double as an unofficial furnishing of suggestions for further reading. It will serve the reader well for him or her to independently research the individual titles mentioned in order to further one’s education in the subject matter. Titles such as the 1948 “bible” The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury, the historical And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis, Absinthe: History in a Bottle by Barnaby Conrad III, the 1977 Complete Barguide by Stan Jones, or the 1993 title Straight Up or On the Rocks by William Grimes. 

The book however, is unfortunately poorly edited; there are a handful of grammar and spelling errors that distinctly impede the overall smoothness of the reading experience. A sentence for example, indicated that one “landed a job at a brunch waiter at Balboa Café,” whilst another went, “Post-Prohibition, many classic cocktails faded from the bartender’s repertoire because the tools needed to make them were no long made or imported”—“longer” was erroneously written as “long.” In another separate instance, “every” was spelled as “ever.” Whilst mostly entertaining, the book is occasionally unwarrantedly dull and bland to the extent that the reader might feel prompted to skip ahead. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

REVIEW: "The Political System of Brazil" by Dana de la Fontaine, Thomas Stehnken

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Political System of Brazil
by Dana de la Fontaine, Thomas Stehnken
ISBN: 978-3642400223
Copyright October 2015
Hardcover, 419 Pages

The Political System of Brazil is incontestably intellectually-stimulating. The book very methodically and logically examines the Brazilian political system in its historical, political and socio-economic contexts. Customary of titles published by Springer, this book is unsurprisingly excellently researched, well-written, and offers an exhaustive, and of course scholarly, coverage of the subject matter.

This book would prove to be a valuable resource for political pundits and enthusiasts, political science scholars, students and researchers, and certainly also for passionate students of life—the gaining of such specialized knowledge and increased understanding of foreign systems could nurture the reader to become a more sophisticated, and even more productive, global citizen. This book also makes a great companion for courses of political science, foreign studies, and even comparative law studies. Not to mention the book's incredible segmentation of material which potentially helps the reader better digest the information and navigate the book.

The book furnishes an in-depth investigation of a fascinating range of issues subsumed under the Brazilian political system, including for example, the Brazilian electoral system—specifically an open list proportional representation (OLPR) system—; and of the intricacies, functioning, subtleties, composition, organization and structure of, and interplay between, the Brazilian executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government—discussions of for example, the particularities of presidentialism as adopted in Brazil, the fragmentation of the Brazilian parliament, and legislative instruments such as the powerful provisional decree.

Of course, the book provides an overview of the Brazilian party system along with the range of political parties in the country; the former was evaluated in terms of pertinent characteristics including fragmentation, polarization, and institutionalization, whilst the latter consisted of substantial detailing of the 4 major parties of Brazil—the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), the Worker's Party (PT), the Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), and the Party of the Liberal Front (PFL) otherwise called the Democratas (DEM).

The book substantially investigates the administrations of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Dilma Rousseff. Lula's government for example, was examined in terms of his strategy for foreign policy diversification and characteristics of his brand of environmental policy, his agenda of reforming the public education system and his political agenda for the judiciary, his role in tackling social inequalities such as income inequality, and even issues such as the prominent transformation of Brazil from recipient to donor country under his administration.

The book very aptly covers an abundance of material on Brazil's socio-economic climate and historical content which undoubtedly contributes to, and bolsters the reader's learning and understanding of the country's political system. The eclectic range of subject matters examined include Brazilian economic policy, social policies, media policy, environmental policy, research, technology and innovation policy, and more.

The reader will be introduced to the specificities of Brazilian journalism through critical issues such as its degree of independence, threats of governmental censorship, intervention and repression, and ownership issues; Brazilian social activism and the significance of the MST; references to the period of military dictatorship in Brazil, the autocracy's “crisis of legitimacy,” and the exacting transition thus from dictatorship to political democracy. Or matters such as Brazil's urban and rural social movements; the country's industrialization process, and subsequent premature deindustrialization—with explication of associated factors such as the loss of a national development strategy from the loss of political power of industrial entrepreneurs, leading thus to a snowball effect—; or Brazilian diplomatic strategies.

These are but only a sampling of the wide-ranging scope of subject matters which the book encompasses. Other distinctly memorable and refreshing assessments as applicable to Brazil include the phrase “feminization of poverty;” the notion of the 1930s corporatism—a type of “public-private arrangement” of “interest intermediation”—; investigations of the implications and significance of the various Brazilian Constitutions; and analyses of the institutional and constitutional history of Brazil and its political system respectively.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Springer in return for this review.