March 21, 2010


Berlin, Ira, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (New York: Viking, 2010) ("The Making of African America is a history of the three great migrations that made and remade African and African American life in the United State--and American--society. . . . "The first of the great migrations, the forcible deportation from Africa to mainland North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, enslaved roughly 400,000 free men and women and transformed the many people of Africa--Angloans, Igbos, Kongos, Minas, Mandes, and others--into Africans and, in time, African Americans." "The second forced transfer . . . transported some one million men and women from the Atlantic seaboard to the Southern interior during the first half of the nineteenth century to create a new slave regime in the Deep South. It transformed tobacco and rice cultivators into growers of cotton and sugar, setting African American life on a new course." "That course changed in the middle decades of the twentieth century, when some six million black people . . . fled the South for the cities of the North, making urban wageworkers out of sharecroppers and once again reconstructing black life in the United States." "Finally, at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries, people of African descent entered the United States from all over the world--Africa, the greater Caribbean, South America, and Europe--again changing the composition, character, and cultures of the black population of the United States. . . ." Id. at 14-15).

Ferris, Joshua, The Unnamed: A Novel (New York: Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown, 2010) (See Jay McInerney's review, "Long March," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/24/10.).

Gawande, Atul, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010) ("All learned occupations have a definition of professionalism, a code of conduct. It is where they spell out their ideas and duties. . . . [T]hey all have at least three common elements." "First is an expectation of selflessness: that we who accept responsibility for others . . . will place the needs and concerns of those who depend on us above our own. Second is an expectation of skill: that we will aim for excellence in our knowledge and expertise. Third is an expectation of trustworthiness: that we will be responsible in our personal behavior toward our charges." "Aviators, however, add a fourth expectation, discipline: discipline in following prudent procedure and in functioning with others. This is a concept almost entirely outside the lexicon of most professions. . . . The closest our professional codes come to articulating the goal is an occasional plea for 'collegiality.' What is needed, however, isn't just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline." Id. at 182-183. See Sandeep Jauhar's review, "One Thing After Another," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/24/10.).

Heilemann, John & Mark Halperin, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (New York: Harper, 2010) (Two comments. One, sometimes the whole (story) is less (i.e., worse) than the sum of its parts. Two, were this a work of fiction, no one would believe it. See Jacob Heilbrunn's review, "Election Confidential," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/17/10.).

Jin, Ha, A Good Fall: Stories (New York: Pantheon, 2009) (See Colm Toibin's review, "Exiles From Themselves," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/3/10.).

Patel, Raj, The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy ( New York: Picador, 2010) (Nice polemic. "I am not, however, arguing for a world without markets. The idea of a market as a place in which people with diverse needs exchange goods is one that can be found in every human civilization. What characterizes today's markets is exchange driven not by needs, but by profits. It is pure ideology to think that the best way for markets to operate is to let markets seek profits, and that the best way for markets to function is with minimal interference. The terms on which markets operate are set by the powerful; our tragedy is to have let this happen. The blindness, the anosognosia here, is our faith in a faculty that routinely betrays us--in the demonstrably false promise that profit-driven markets can point to true value." Id. at 22. "Reclaiming the ability to engage market society, reclaiming the right to have rights, is difficult work. To begin with, it means regaining an appetite for conflict. It means understanding that some entities in the private sector are structurally part of the problem, not part of the solution, and that they need to be successfully challenged. Every philosophy of social change has had an understanding of enmity. . . . Movements around the world have developed the psychological tools to deal with conflict, guided by principles of equality and a desire to control the term of inclusion." "Of course, this threatens the status quo, which is why many of the movements I've discussed . . . have been branded criminals and hooligans. Turning dissenters into criminals doesn't happen by magic--it happens because today's market society has an ideology in which those who challenge the fragile consensus around the role of the market cannot be tolerated. The activist Abbie Hoffman once observed, 'You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives assimilated conformists.' By that metric, there's not much democracy around." Id. at 176-177.).

Sacco, Joe, Footnotes in Gaza (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009) (See Patrick Cockburn's review, "They Planted Hatred in Our Hearts," NYT, 12/24/09/ According to Cockburn, "Joe Sacco's gripping, important book about two long-forgotten mass killings of Palestinians in Gaze stands out as one of the few contemporary works on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle likely to outlive the era in which they were written.").

Shepard, Sam, Days Out of Days: Stories (New York: Knopf, 2010) (From "Things You Learn from Others": "What you don't learn, though, is how to protect others from your own manifestations of cruelty and malice which you've learned so insidiously through skin and blood and find impossible to shake free from no matter how much you'd like to be thought of as a decent, wholesome person." Id. at 250. See Walter Kern's review, "The Highwayman," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/17/10.).

Smith, Zadie, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009) (See Pankaj Mishra's review, "Other Voices, Other Selves," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 1/17/10.).

Sowell, Thomas, Intellectuals and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2009) ("We must be clear about what we mean by intellectuals. Here 'intellectuals' refers to an occupational category, people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas--writers, academics, and the like. Most of us do not think of brain surgeons or engineers as intellectuals, despite the demanding mental training that each goes through, and virtually no one regards even the most brilliant and successful financial wizard as an intellectual." "An intellectual's work begins and ends with ideas, however influential those ideas may be on concrete things--in the hands of others. . . ." "The quintessential intellectuals of the academic world, for example, are those in fields more pervaded by ideas, as such. A university's business school, engineering school, medical school, or athletic department is not what usually comes to mind when we think of academic intellectuals. . . ." Id. at 2-3. From the jacket cover:"This is a study of how intellectuals as a class affect modern societies by shaping the climate of opinion in which official policies develop on issues ranging from economics to law to war and peace" "The thesis of Intellectuals and Society is that the influence on intellectuals is not only greater than in previous eras but also takes a very different form from that envisioned by those like Machiavelli and others who have wanted ed to directly influence rulers. It has not been by shaping the opinions or directing the actions of the holders of power that modern intellectuals have most influenced the course of events, but by shaping public opinion in ways that affect the actions of power holders in democratic societies, whether or not those power holders accept the general vision or particular policies favored by intellectuals Even government leaders with disdain or contempt for intellectuals have had to bend to the climate of opinion shaped by those intellectuals." I think that Sowell is a bit over the top in this book. Nonetheless, Sowell as agent-provocateur is in fine form. Of course, those grounded in the anti-intellectual tradition of American life will cheer his arguments.).

Stiglitz, Joseph E., Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy (New York: Norton, 2010) ("Several commentators have referred to the massive bailouts and government interventions in the economy as socialism with American characteristics, something akin to China's march to what it calls 'a market economy with Chinese characteristics.' But, as one Chinese friend pointed out, the description is inaccurate: socialism is supposed to care about people. Socialism American-style didn't do that. Had the money been spent on helping those who were losing their homes, it might have been a correct characterization. As it was, it was just an expanded version of Corporate Welfarism American-style." Id. at 145. "There is an obvious solution to the too-big-to-fail banks: break them up. If they are too big to fail, they are too big to exist." Id. at 164-165. "The United States will still remain the largest economy, but the way the world views America has changed, and China's influence will grow. Even before the crisis the dollar was no longer viewed as a good store of value; it value was volatile and declining. Now, with the ballooning of America's debt and the unremitting printing of money by the Fed, confidence has eroded further. This will have a long-term impact on America and its standing, but it has already generated a demand for a new global financial order. If a new global reserve system, and, more broadly, new frameworks for governing the global economic system, can be created, that would be one of the few silver linings to this otherwise dismal cloud." Id. at 211. "In the end, why should we Americans care that the world has become disillusioned with the American model of Capitalism? The ideology that we promoted has been tarnished, sure, but perhaps it is a good thing that it may be tarnished beyond repair. Can't we survive--even thrive--if not everyone adheres to the American way?" 'Inevitably, our influence will be diminished, but that, in many ways, was already happening. We used to play a pivotal role in managing global capital because others believed that we had special talent for managing risk and allocating financial resources. No one thinks that now, and Asia--where much of the world's savings occurs today--is already developing its own financial centers. We are no longer the world's chief source of capital. The world's top three banks are now Chinese; America's largest bank is down at the number-five spot." Id. at 223-224. Also see Kevin Phillips's review, "Moving the Deck Chairs," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 2/7/10. This is a very worthwhile, and nontechnical, read, especially for those Americans who are prepared to acknowledge, taking responsibility for, and begin to task of solving our financial woes. Unfortunately, the average American is a modern-day Nero. While America declines, over 100 million Americans were watching the Super Bowl. We are not a serious people. We are in constant want of entertainment.).

Tuck, Stephen, We Ain't What We Ought To Be: The Black Freedom Struggle From Emancipation to Obama (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2010) ("[T]he struggle of black Americans for meaningful freedom was not confined to the world-famous southern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Indeed, that movement was not the climax of protest, nor even the prototype of African American protest in the United States. Rather, the struggle for full racial equality was fought--and needed to be fought--in many different ways and in all regions and in every generation from emancipation. In 1926 A. Philip Randolph wrote of the 'unfinished task of emancipation.' That, in short is what this book is about." Id. at 1-2. "Obama recognized, too, that racial divisions were not so much a consequence of attitudes . . . . Rather, the problem of race in the twenty-first century remained the embedded gap between black (and Latino) Americans and white Americans on virtually every socioeconomic indicator, from incarceration and unemployment rates to home ownership and educational achievements. The optimism Americans felt on the racial front after the election should have been tempered by (though it may have been a salve for) memory of the floods in New Orleans. . . . At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Katrina's devastation and Obama victory represented both the pain and the promise of race in America." Id. at 418-419.).

Vieux-Chauvet, Marie, Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy translated from the French by Rpse-Mayriam Rejois and Val Vinikur (New York: Modern Library, 2009) (See the review "Meanness of the Hear," The Economist, 8/15/09; and Liesl Schillinger, "Untamed Hear," The NYT Book Review, Sunday, 10/18/09.).

Walter, Jess, The Financial Lives of Poets: A Novel (New York: Harper, 2009).