Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Quick takes on new books by Putnam ("Our Kids") and Toobin ("American Heiress"); my new book review strategy ; also Gladwell

As a number of mainstream-published socially and politically relevant non-fiction books accumulate, it is difficult for me to keep up with them all.

On my new Wordpress media commentary blog  I’ve given certain emphasis to lesser known or self-published books, and to books (and movies) with more direct relevance to the content in my own books.  So from time to time, I’ll list a few new mainstream books here, order them, and review them in full there later, while bringing up the issues in a more timely manner.
I’ll mention three new books today in summary fashion.

One is “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam (Simon & Schuster).  The New York Times has a review by Jason De Parle here .  The book makes the point that education, rather than being a class equalizer, seems to be a class “fortifier” as the legacy of accumulated income (and wealth) inequality accumulates within families.  I saw this sentiment among other soldiers and the cadre back when I entered the Army in 1968 (the “too much education” attitude).  The book also seems to bear some relation to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” when it comes to views on social capital, even if the policy prescriptions are different (March 14, 2012).

A second book is “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst” by CNN legal columnist Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday). Here is a review, “Comrades”, by Laura Miller in Slate.     Toobin has said on CNN that today Americans have forgotten how violence and domestic terrorism had become weapons of the radical left in the 1970s.  The Symhionese Liberation Army intended to martial indignation and cause expropriation and revolution, communist style, but the workability of its plan was total fantasy, even given the way it was able to manipulate Patty Hearst, who wound up helping pay for their crimes by prison herself. I can remember the indignation of the “People’s Party of New Jersey” myself in 1972 when spying on them in Newark, especially concerning unearned, inherited wealth. 

I saw, at church, a flier advertising some books from the Baptist-related Judson Press, particularly “The Spiritual Act of Raising Children with Disabilities” by Kathleen Deyer Boulduc and a foreword by Ginny Thornburgh.  This is an approach which “sells” today, but probably would not have in the more distant past.  I get prodded (at least indirectly) on why I wouldn’t write something like this.  I guess if I actually “did it”, it would not be for the purpose of writing a profitable book. 

The publisher was well known in faith circles when I was growing up.  Everett Goodwin, a progressive Baptist pastor (left First Baptist in Washington DC in 1993 and pastored for some years at Myers Park in Charlotte) authored “Down By the Riverside: A Brief History of Baptist Faith” in 1997, with a second edition and Study Book in 2006.  He also authored “Baptists in the Balance: The Tension Between Freedom and Responsibility “(1997), a book that supports libertarian political ideas of individual freedom and individual accountability. Goodwin helped pre-read 1996 drafts of my own first “Do Ask Do Tell” book.   

Update: Sept, 27

I've ordered Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath: Underdog, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" 2015), and want to note the article in the Guardian by Oliver Burkeman, "If my books seem oversimplified, maybe you shouldn't read them:  There's an interesting philosophical question: why do we allow inborn genetic advantages (like more red blood cells than usual) in sports, but not doping. Gladwell looks for a principled answer.  It will be interesting of Gladwell talks about ideas like "giving back", inherited wealth, or particularly "right-sizing". 

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