Books to Watch | January 21, 2020
January 21, 2020
Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights the five books being released that we are most excited about.
This week, our choices are:
The Founding Fortunes: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America's Revolution by Tom Shachtman, St. Martin's Press
I am a glutton for books on economic history. Just as business biographies and narratives help us put our own leadership and organization in perspective, reading of how economic forces have shaped and continue to echo through history helps us make sense of—and put into context—how those forces are at work in our own time. That is certainly true of Tom Shachtman’s new book, The Founding Fortunes.
What Tom Shachtman shows us in the book is that, while the idea that revolutionary fervor in the colonies of America was whipped up on the unfairness of taxes seems almost schoolbook in its simplicity, it is undoubtedly true even if it is oversimplified. But it wasn’t simply against “taxation without representation” that Americans rebelled, but against a larger mercantile system of trade that was designed to keep the colonies “economically infantilized” and subjugated. In order to win in the struggle against such subjugation, it was necessary for all classes of society unite:
Revolutions that produce lasting change, rather than just disruptions, cannot succeed without the participation of both the rich and the poor.
With obvious parallels to our own time, Shachtman writes of how those with wealth put their own immediate interests on hold in doing so:
[O]ne obvious characteristic of that handful of the colonial wealthy who took leading roles in the growing resistance to British rule in America was that they made decisions that went flagrantly against their immediate financial interest, and which they knew would disrupt the system that had enriched them.
The fortunes of our young country rested largely on the fortunes of wealthy individuals, but also on those that helped build those fortunes with their labor and smaller investments. The masses that put their lives on the lines later literally bought into an economic system to replace the mercantilism and monarchy they fought to escape. Schachtman’s history begins with the American War for Independence, and ends with the War of 1812 as the ultimate “War for Economic Freedom,” building what historian Don R. Adams has called “the commencement of investment banking in America,” to fund the war. It is also a fascinating history of political and economic developments between the wars, of an economic system where different banks became aligned with different political persuasions, and how we overcame that partisanship for a time to build the beginnings of the world’s most dynamic economy. (DJJS)
The Ginger and Turmeric Companion: Natural Recipes and Remedies for Everyday Health by Suzy Scherr, Countryman Press
I did not grow up with either ginger or turmeric in my food at home, but I can hardly imagine my adult kitchen without them. I feel like Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba when I list off my current stash: fresh ginger, powdered ginger, dried minced ginger, crystallized ginger, ginger tincture, ginger chews, ginger syrup, ginger liqueur...and that’s just one of these two magical rhizomes. And while I realize that the “superfood” label may be merely a marketing scam, there is something at least “super-ish” about this duo that can be both grounding and energizing at the same time. The Ginger and Turmeric Companion by chef and culinary instructor Suzy Scherr starts off with a brief history and overview of the two ingredients, and moves on to explorations of culinary, wellness, beauty, and home uses for each, which taught me so much. I did not know that black pepper helps unleash the full power of turmeric for your body, or that the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale is that the former is fermented, and I most definitely did not know that there is such a thing as ginger toothpaste. Alongside recipes for mains, sides, drinks, and desserts, Scherr helps you tend to colds, burns, sprains, and styes. If that’s not enough, this essential and accessible primer will help you create your own ginger and turmeric home spa this weekend, soaking in a chocolate-ginger bath, face covered with an acne-fighting turmeric mask, and hair slathered with a ginger split ends treatment. Spicy heaven. (BRM)
A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende, Ballantine
I've read excerpts of Isabel Allende's work in Spanish classes throughout high school and college, so my experience with the poetic flow of her words as they build vivid worlds around characters and construct bridges between history and fiction is something I partially attribute to the Spanish language. The swirling waves on the cover of A Long Petal of the Sea reminded me of the satisfaction of understanding a sentence and then a paragraph in Spanish after previously stopping every few words to open a translation app. Reading this English translation was obviously a lot easier for me, and almost equally as poetry-infused (It's hard to top the electric breeze of well-written Spanish, especially when it's by Isabel Allende), and since this work is a modern epic, I was actively writing down character names and making family trees which kept me happily absorbed in the story. It's exciting to see such a dramatic overall chronicle be constructed of very human, very loving characters like Ofelia, "the only one who was as daring and stubborn as [her father] was, someone impossible to subdue," who painted watercolor and "managed to hide her ignorance by being beguiling, by knowing when to keep quiet, and thanks to her ability to observe."
The book's inciting action is the end of the Spanish Civil War, from which absconds 500,000 Spanish refugees fleeing to France where they ended up starving or freezing to death in improvised internment camps. Victor Dalmau, a doctor, provides help to often ill-fated soldiers at the battlefront and then to the republican sympathizers seeking asylum from Francisco Franco's newly won regime. "There was too much pain, too much that was despicable in this war between brothers; defeat had to be better than to continue killing and dying."
From here, poet Pablo Neruda arranges a ship called the Winnipeg ushering over 2,000 Spaniards "toward that long, narrow South American country that clung to the mountains so as not to topple into the sea." Refugees direct their hope to different destinations throughout history, fleeing different forms of injustice, feeling different shades of faith and fear; A Long Petal of the Sea is an essential book that develops our emotional understanding of the continuous tribulations of immigrants and refugees from the past and today. (GMC)
The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite by Michael Lind, Portfolio
When asked in his 1952 confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee if, as Secretary of Defense, he would be able to make decisions that would be adverse to the interests of General Motors, the company he was president of at the time, Charles Wilson replied that, while he would indeed be able to, he actually couldn’t imagine such a scenario because he “thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." And that may have been mostly true at the time, when what was in the interest of General Motors was aligned with what was in the interest of its workers—and the broader working class—in a postwar economic order and democratic pluralist dispensation shaped by the New Deal and other “wartime institutions and reforms” that balanced corporate power with the power of organized labor and government oversight.
That balance, which Michael Lind describes as a form of business-labor-government tripartism in his new book The New Class War, was hammered out after a prolonged period of labor strife:
The US, as it replaced Britain as the most advanced industrial capitalist economy in the world, was the site of some of the worst labor violence, with government and business frequently allied to crush workers in the era from the Civil War to the 1930s. Homestead, Ludlow, the Battle of Blair Mountain—these were the equivalents of the Battle of Bunker Hill and Yorktown and Antietam and Gettysburg in the first American class war.
But, as books like Amy Goldstein’s Janesville clearly demonstrate, what General Motors deems to be in its interest today is often no longer in the interest of the American communities whose labor built the company’s fortunes for so long. As books like Rana Foroohar's Don't Be Evil make clear, neither are the interests of Big Tech. This is resulting in what Lind believes is a new class war (which is mirrored in Western European democracies just as postwar, pluralistic developments were), in which:
Demagogic populism is a symptom. Technocratic neoliberalism is the disease. Democratic pluralism is the cure.
One of the concerns we had as we broadened our editorial coverage beyond business books upon changing the name of our company was that we’d lose our business niche. But when you have one of the finest business book publishers in the country releasing a book entitled The New Class War, perhaps we shouldn’t have been overly concerned. Perhaps they agree that business works best when the balance of power is more equal, when we all agree on and help write the rules that govern our business organizations and cultural institutions, and when the benefits are more broadly shared. What we need to do that, Lind proposes, is democratic pluralism. (DJJS)
The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy by Chris Murphy, Random House
Besides the clever title and striking red cover, I was drawn to developing a deeper understanding of America's notoriously violent culture, which I can't say I've inherited. I squirm in movie theatres during violent scenes of any degree, and unlike many of my classmates from my small rural town, I have never shot a gun or even gone fishing, both acts that seem more like violence than survival. My family's lack of interest in killing made me feel like we were outsiders, but shotguns and fishhooks are just small expressions of humans' violent impulses.
"We shouldn't give up on the project of breaking down the unreasonable, nonsensical prejudices that exist between people who look or sound different from one another, but tribalism is deeply ingrained in biology and sociology. The instinct to view other groups as a threat to our own is probably not going to disappear anytime soon. America's commitment to heterogeneity is our core strength, but it also exposes us to rivalry and conflict and, for the time being, to rates of human-on-human harm that separate us from other nations."
Author and Senator Chris Murphy offers support and evidence that owning guns doesn't have to mean there will be another year of more mass shootings than days (as there was in 2019). And it doesn't have to mean another 39,773 Americans killed by guns (as they were in 2017).
Murphy begins the book with a case study of a twenty-year-old boy with a form of cerebral palsy named Shane who used violence to protect himself against bullies. I'm quickly engrossed in learning about the many layers of this boy's life, and then it escalates suddenly and his life is over. Brutally. Next, the author tours us around the corner from Shane's final fight and introduces readers to his childhood neighborhood. The book highlights the fact that every death and every act of violence is always a too-close-to-home occurrence. It's easy to turn away from the news when it seems to be an endless echo of strangers whose lives end in (or incite) tragedy, but The Violence Inside Us brings us deeper into the national and personal histories that have defined the country's brutality but will hopefully convince many that there are steps we can all take to mitigate Americans' acts of violence. (GMC)
What we're reading away from work:
“ I recently finished Disappearing Earth by Julia Philips.The book is more like linked short stories. many women’s/family’s lives linked chapter after chapter by the disappearance of three girls from the isolated peninsula of Kamchatka Russia. The book burns its brightest in the end when the mothers’ sorrow is exposed, raw and nearly unsurvivable. " —Sally Haldorson, General Manager & Chief Strategist