Presidential Page Turners
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Isabel Wilkerson (2020)
This is the most important book I have read in the past decade, as the author powerfully examines the history of racism in the United States via comparisons with caste systems globally. It is also one of the most moving books I have read, as the author then presents gripping tales of her own and others' personal experiences with racism. Examples leap from the page, such as the discussion of how Nazi idealogues in the 1930s studied Jim Crow segregation and legislation but thought its "one drop" rule too radical for Germany. A more than worthy follow up to the author's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.
Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream.
Sara Goldrick-Rab ( 2016)
By following students with high financial needs in a longitudinal study, Goldrick-Rab demonstrates that college is not affordable for poor and even many middle-class students. Financial aid covers portions of tuition and fees, but usually not indirect costs (transportation, books and supplies, housing), nor opportunity costs from lost wages if students work less than full time (students who work more than ten hours a week have far lower graduation rates). Financial aid (covering tuition and fees) is good, but students with high financial needs require support to cover other costs if we truly want them to earn a college degree.
Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio's Natural Landscape. Deborah Fleming (2019)
Published by Kent State University Press, this collection of essays, which provided me with real comfort during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, recently won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. In lieu of a review, I simply cite this passage, which reflects the grace of Fleming's writing and the beauty of her observations:
The process of growing with all its wayward meanderings is also the process of fruition. We reach ripeness not by making every correct choice but by error as well, because our mistakes teach us more than happening on the lucky 'right' choices. The wanderings and wrong turns make people interesting. What we are left with in the end - careers that take us in unexpected directions, success or disappointment in love, places we have lived in and become a part of, opportunities we passed up that haunt our memories - is what brings us to self-understanding.
The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic. Benjamin Carter Hett (2018)
The author deftly presents the stresses and strains, hatred and propaganda that buffeted Germany during and after WWI. He follows the anti-democratic machinations of right-wing politicians fearful of German Social Democrats and Communists, and how these political maneuvers weakened democracy, paving the way for the rise of the Nazis to power. "Hitler pulled all this together - the deliberate dishonesty, the concern with public irrationality, yet also the desire to revel in this irrationality." And once in power, "judges, lawyers and the law were among the things Hitler most despised, and his regime was one long assault on the rationality, predictability, and integrity of law."
The Yellow House. Sarah M. Bloom (2019)
Bloom is the youngest of 12 children who grew up in East New Orleans, a blighted area of the city that never came close to reaching the promise of its developers in the late 1950s/early 1960s. A tale of a family, of trials and tribulations, of home and of shifting memories. There's a reason this book was named one of the year's ten best books by the New York Times. The most powerful book I read in 2019.
The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Civil War. Eric Foner (2019)
Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, will speak at Kent State on May 3, 2020, as part of the May 4 observance. He presents the struggles to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which freed slaves, established citizenship guidelines, and created voting rights for African-American men. From the promise of full citizenship during Reconstruction, to the Supreme Court's dismantling of those gains, to the subsequent rise of Jim Crow segregation, Foner reminds us that rights "can be gained, and rights can be taken away. A century and a half after the end of slavery, the project of equal citizenship remains unfinished."