Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Read and Boast II: Great Nonfiction

Here's the second installment of my "Read and Boast" series, this list comprised of what I consider great (or at least useful) nonfiction.

Correspondents of The New York Times. How Race Is Lived In America: Pulling Together, Pulling Apart.

This is an incredibly interesting collection of stories written by various correspondents of The New York Times regarding what it means to struggle with race in America today. There are no scandals, no larger-than-life figures, but instead the stories explore issues that middle America faces.

My personal favorite of the stories is about a church that was established to have a congregation that is fifty percent white, fifty percent African American. What makes this so interesting is that it shows that the color of skin matters less to the church members than the method of worship.

Here's a link to a digital copy of the book, available through google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=SESBv3cDNK8C&dq=How+Race+Is+Lived+in+America&pg=PP1&ots=IQuz2I-93n&sig=H46WBkkbqbqL8NogGZfswzArS2A&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents

This book is a fascinating look at the development of civilization. Anyone who is interested in how psychology and philosophy can overlap and intersect would probably enjoy this book. (What I find most memorable about the book was Freud's theory regarding the development of the conscience.) Also, in case you're worried, it doesn't involve too many of his theories of psychoanalysis, some of which are less-than-impressive in the 21st century.

Here's a link to the digital version available through google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=AW3z38T3u7YC&dq=civilization+and+its+discontents&pg=PP1&ots=6bkjaHF3sc&sig=hHxRBo-WC5nvRVC9E2gIPbxtiKA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA7,M1

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity

I would highly recommend this book, both for Christians and non-Christians. Lewis is such a genius that reading this is a pleasure, and I had many of what I like to call 'ah-hah' moments. (Of course, I didn't really like the last section--I disagreed with the assertion of what "theology" is, as well as many of his arguments, but what can you do?) Non-Christians can benefit from reading a reasonable, simple explanation of many of the beliefs that seem so bizarre, but Lewis does not try to force his beliefs on anyone. Instead, it feels like he is very respectfully addressing the entire spectrum of readers in his audience.

In addition, I think the world would be a better place if all Christians read this book and lived by it; I know my life would be easier. For an online text-only version of the book, go to http://lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt.

Mathews, Joe. The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy.

This book would probably be most interesting to people who know something about California politics, but it is also interesting to see just how well Schwarzenneger uses the media to his advantage. We're in a day and age of what Mathews calls "blockbuster democracy," and Schwarzenneger is an expert at it. This will help you see politics in general in a new light.
It's also a fairly easy read, and it's interesting to see how Schwarzenegger came to be one of the most important governors in the nation. In addition, I found it fascinating how he came to identify with the Republican party, when many would claim he's a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and married into the Kennedy family.

Here's a link to the book at google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=5vxwV6uFcC0C&dq=the+people

Nietsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality.

Yes, I know, Nietsche is almost a cliche nowadays, with emo kids around the world reading him and agreeing whole-heartedly while they listen to Linkin Park and cut themselves. But, as with Civilization and its Discontents, I think it's useful to look at another idea of where morality comes from, when we are constantly told that Judeo-Christian ethics are the norm because God said so, and they are to be followed or else...

Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope.
Full disclosure: I am currently only about three-quarters of the way through this book, but Obama's message of bipartisan cooperation and change for the better is like a salve for my bruised, liberal soul. Obama's writing style is very similar to his speaking style--sweeping and poetic, so it's a pleasure to read. Plus, if he's the next president of the United States, don't you want to be able to say that you've done at least a little bit of research into his points of view?

(Before you say it, I know that the same could be said of McCain, but I haven't even scraped together enough time to finish this one yet, let alone start one of McCain's.)

Orman, Suze. The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke.

I'm not generally a fan of self-help kinds of books, but Orman breaks down financial problems to make them both easier to understand and easier to handle. While I haven't read the whole thing, I have read the sections on retirement plans and health benefits, which helped me when I was signing up for them with my new job. These are the kinds of things that we all need to do, but none of us really know how.
Plus, Orman doesn't write annoying platitudes such as, "If you just stop going to Starbucks every day, you can save $5000 a year!" Budget management is important, but it's not as simple as that, and I'm glad she doesn't act like it is.

Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.
I hesitated over whether to include this book on my list, but I finally decided that there is a lot of good stuff in it. Michael Shermer is founder of the American Skeptics Association, and while there is much in his creed that I agree with whole-heartedly (read the chapter on Ayn Rand), there is some of the book that I want to disagree with but am unable to argue against coherently because he is speaking from a position of absolute logic and reason. (The chapter on death was especially difficult for me to read).

Here's a link to the Skeptics Association website if you're curious: http://www.skeptic.com/

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

This book is one of the few that I would insist that everyone--no matter their race or political views--should read. I came across it a few years ago when I took a Race and Race Relations class, and the book absolutely changed my point of view on many issues, not the least of which is affirmative action.

What makes this book unique, however, is that it has chapters on race identies--for example, the stages of development that an African-American will go through as he or she develops an understanding of where African-Americans fit in the world. For me, however, the fact that Dr. Tatum included a chapter on white racial identity was mind-boggling, when so often we tend to forget that white is a race. Anyway, read this book!

Wolf, Naomi. The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.
This is another book that I think everyone should read, though it is the most terrifying book I've ever read. (It would pair up very nicely with Brave New World and 1984 if anyone is so inclined.)

Wolf outlines the ten steps that every fascist state has gone through (whether that is Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy) before throwing its people into martial law. The ten steps are as follows: 1) Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy; 2) Create secret prisons where torture takes place; 3) Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens; 4) Set up an internal surveillance system; 5) Harass citizens' groups; 6) Engage in arbitrary detention and release; 7) Target key individuals; 8) Control the press; 9) Treat all political dissents as traitors; and, 10) Suspend the rule of law.

Wow, we're already at step nine! Only one more to go before we, too, can make history!

X, Malcom. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Just read it. We all know oodles and oodles about Martin Luther King Jr (or at least some of us do), but we know very little about Malcolm X. If nothing else, you should read the epilogue, which was written just months before his assasination and in which he acknowledges: a) that he is going to die soon, and b) Martin Luther King Jr. will be lauded by white men while he, Malcolm X, will be painted as an enemy of the state. He was right on-target, wouldn't you say? Also, slightly off-topic, there's a fabulous PBS documentary on Malcolm X that they play during Black History Month. Keep an eye out for it.


Chatty Cathy said...

"We all know oodles and oodles about Martin Luther King Jr (or at least some of us do)"...I think we both know who you are talking about.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Yes, some of us do. The rest of us think MLK freed the slaves.

Homero said...

Holy crap, The Great Gatsby Really? That book is the complete opposite for me, perhaps one of the most ungodly over rated American novels. Ugh.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Oh, no, I love it, but certain scenes almost clicked into place for me. What I don't love and never will is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Oh, and The Red Badge of courage. [Shudder].

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