If there’s a shining light from spending a year under lockdown, it does at least provide ample time to read. The following are some of the titles I read during the past year of pandemic life—in no particular order—that WSBA members might enjoy:
“The Art of Logic in an Illogical World” by Eugenia Cheng
At a time when many arguments take place over social media and all of them are terrible, I can’t say that reading this book will help you win more arguments. However, it will provide a fascinating breakdown into logic and reasoning through the cold, calculated perspective of a mathematician. Even so, Cheng stresses the importance emotion plays in how we deliver and receive arguments. It would be hard to say that this book will give you the skills to be a skilled public debater, but you will almost certainly walk away from it with a new perspective on human thinking, the intersection of abstract reasoning with emotional argument, and maybe even how to deconstruct and evaluate your deepest-held beliefs.
“An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
What’s most inescapable in this detailed history of North America’s pre-colonial and colonial roots is how much mainstream views are shaped by the perspective many of us (assumedly, judging from my own public education) look to for that history. Put another way, what are the consequences of a history shaped so much by the colonizers and settlers of a “new world” than the vastly complex people who were colonized and settled. From government sanctioned buffalo slaughter to starve natives as settlers pushed farther west to bounties for indigenous scalps, there is so much from this book that I never knew and now cannot forget.
“Stiff” by Mary Roach
As an affirmed wimp when it comes to most blood and gore, I still can’t not gush about this macabre, funny, insightful, depressing, and revelatory dive into the world of the dead. Roach is unabashedly darkly comedic in retelling the rarely discussed and frequently shunned corners of the scientific world that depends on lessons which can only be learned from studying cadavers. She lays out a sometimes absurd, sometimes revolting history where cadavers are in high demand and short supply, previously procured in less-than-legal ways, and still frequently used in ethically murky ways that vary wildly depending on personal beliefs. Roach revels in this uncomfortable subject matter and uses it to bring out a larger point about the human condition, but she also illustrates how much of our modern existence depends on the forensic lessons we’ve learned from a field of decomposing bodies in a field on the campus of a college in Tennessee or the vehicle safety standards that now save lives because there are some things a crash test dummy cannot teach as well as real flesh. Gross to be sure, engrossing nonetheless, if you can stomach through the worst of it, this book will reward you in the end.
“The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein
On the opening page, Rothstein (distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a senior fellow (emeritus) at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) flatly states his case that the United States is not simply a result of de facto segregation where racialized boundaries emerged through private practices. From there he devotes every following page to analysis of historical events, legal precedent, and societal shifts that have shaped modern cities and neighborhoods. Writes Rothstein: “Today’s residential segregation in the North, South, Midwest, and West is not the unintended consequence of individual choices and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.”
“Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare” by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward
In the time of COVID, when more than 10 million people are unemployed, tens of millions have trouble putting food on the table, and even more are at risk of losing housing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s surprising how prescient a 50-year-old book can be. In meticulous detail (lovers of extensive footnotes will rejoice), Regulating the Poor walks through the cyclical rises and dips of public assistance in the United States, as well as the empathy and demonization for those who need it. From reluctant rollouts of public aid during the Great Depression to the creation of the “welfare queen” as a tool to retract such spending, the authors argue their case that welfare has been as critical to American politics as interest rates have been to its economy. You’ll learn about home raids of welfare recipients by the welfare agencies themselves to massive organizing efforts supported by grassroots legal advocacy groups in cities like Chicago which challenged the status quo.