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Books to Watch | July 21, 2020

July 21, 2020

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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 five new books we are most excited about.

This week, our choices are:

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Anticorruption by Robert I. Rotberg, The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series

Corruption is a scourge that undermines the economies of countries and the social welfare of their people. It makes markets less free through distortion and citizens less free through extortion—monetary as well as moral. And it is a top-down, rather than bottom-up, phenomenon.

Corruption flourishes when leaders behave illegitimately and in ethically questionable ways, and attempt to destroy the whole notion of “truth,” thereby denying the very concept of noncorruption.

Robert Rotberg offers a comprehensive, yet compact, examination of how corruption corrodes societies in which it is allowed to take hold, and how to combat it. He looks at institutional remedies, like the idea of an International Anti-Corruption Court, and the ideas behind our institutions, like Ethical Universalism. 

Ethical universalism presumes that all inhabitants of a political jurisdiction will be treated fairly, equally, and tolerantly. At its best, it means that within a political and policy framework of ethical universalism, minorities are treated well, with the same privileges and opportunities, as majorities, and that religious, racial, and other identities gain rights the same way as any other group or person within a political space. 

The balance between good governance and good business practices is different in different places at different times, but they are tied together. National governments have a role to play in fostering an ethical business environment, but multinational corporations also have the power to rein in corruption where they operate rather than perpetuate it. 

Rotberg also examines the role of a free and independent press, highlighting, for instance, a report that found that “the pursuit of corruption in the United States is greatly hindered by its ‘news deserts’” as local news outlets around the country close in the wake of digital disruption. And, at the same time, he highlights how new technologies can be used to fight corruption. And while it is a top-down phenomenon that corrodes the economies and moral fiber of nations, it is ultimately a matter of political will, and bottom-up perseverance, that can correct it. (DJJS)

A book talk from Academic Council on the United Nations System covers material from two of Rotberg’s books, Transformative Political Leadership and Africa Emerges.

 

The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Women's Empowerment by Linda Scott, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A global tour led by the senior adviser to the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, Linda Scott, reveals the many unfortunate forms that women's inequality takes across cultures and throughout countries like Ghana, Italy, the United States, Bangladesh, and beyond.

No matter the country, the roots of the issue are the same: prejudice.

Under every unfair economic arrangement I have studied, fear of male aggression lies beneath women's choices, even if they apprehend only the potential attack suggested by a male colleague's rage at work.

Like all inequalities, the prejudices hindering economics is not something that can be fixed overnight. In fact, data has only recently begun being gathered and analyzed on the subject of women's economic exclusion. Scott writes that:

[I]nstitutions from universities to governments have not generally collected or analyzed data by gender, and there has also been a paucity of information from poor countries, especially on gender matters.

This isn't a surprise since the number of women scholars in male-dominated disciplines (which is almost all of them) has only just been rising in the past fifty years. Before that, there were no women in places of power to ask "What about the women?"

The Double X Economy is answering that question for economists. Even if they didn't ask it, which they probably didn't because "[e]conomics is the most male-dominated field in the universities worldwide—more so than even the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields." And the field's sexism is no secret. The book mentions quite a few unfortunate studies about it, but I think this piece from New Statesman is a helpful and accessible article you can read right now.

The harsh realities of gender inequality are not softened, but hope is not out-of-the-running either in this comprehensive book that calls us ALL into action and effectively details what that "concrete, reasonable, and effective action" can look like. (GMC)

This video of Linda Scott's inaugural lecture at the University of Oxford in 2012 is a good introduction to her thinking about "The Double X Economy."

 

Union: A Democrat, a Republican, and a Search for Common Ground by Jordan Blashek & Christopher Haugh, Little, Brown and Company

If I were being brutally cynical about it, I would say that Union is about “two whites guys who graduated from Yale Law School together who realize they aren’t so different after all.” And I must admit that there was a hint of that thought in my mind as I opened the book—but I was quickly disabused of that cynicism. At a time when it feels like partisanship has begun to undermine patriotism, Union is about how these two friends came to understand each other, and our entire country, more deeply in the process. 

They spent three years on the road together, travelling through the diverse communities—large and small—that make up our nation. Their stories will make you wistful for a time we could do that without worry (they admit it is easier, even in normal times, to do so without worry as two white males) but they are also prescient of many of the social issues and policy debates that are at the forefront today. Their conversations about police killings and the mass incarceration of Black men feels like it could have happened last week. They visited the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Black Wall Street Memorial in Tulsa, in the news last month as the president held a rally nearby the day after Juneteenth. They talk about voter disenfranchisement and election security, now on all our minds as November nears. 

There is a moment in the book’s conclusion, in which Chris, a secular Democrat who worked in the Obama administration, tells Jordan, a Marine veteran who now works in impact investing, that he has picked up and started reading one of the bibles from his motel-room drawer. Their discussion about it is, to me, an encapsulation of one of the most powerful lessons of our present moment, as Jordan relates how one of the things he’s always loved about the Torah is that “the greatest prophets all argue with God at various points,” reflecting that: 

The most revered among us are not those who have blind obedience, but those who argue and protest. 

In the wake of the passing of John Lewis and C.T. Vivian over the weekend, and amidst the ongoing protests in America, I can’t imagine a more timely reflection. He continues talking about how God’s promises to the Jewish people have taken decades or millennia to fulfill, and how: 

In fact, those promises might never be fully realized, but each generation is tasked with remembering and struggling to realize them and wrestling with our faith in spite of it all.

It is a little uncanny how much the conversations they have on the road reflect the current situation in our streets. What emerges in their conversations, and those they had with others on their journey, is the power of our shared values even in the presence of competing beliefs, a similar hope for progress even if we have different ideas about how to achieve it. It reveals that we are more complex, and connected, than most of us assume. (DJJS)

Read this interview with the co-authors in conversation on the struggles and language of finding common ground.

 

Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration by Christine Montross, M.D., Penguin Press  

After finishing her psychiatry training, Christine Montross was trying to choose between a position in a program that specialized in group therapy or a job as an attending psychiatrist for the most severe cases in a hospital. Faced with these two worthy job options, the director of her residency program replied with a question that very few people probably ask:

"What about the prisons?"

Do you think about prison often? Probably not unless you or a close friend or family member are directly affected by the prison system. Asking more questions about the structure of our society is an important part of enacting change and establishing greater equality for everyone.

Montross unravels the threads connecting the mentally ill patients she treats in the hospital with the inmates and prisoners that the mentally ill are accustomed to becoming. She explains:

I wanted to better understand how—and at what points—decisions and outcomes branched for mentally ill people in the legal system.

Waiting for an Echo answers all the questions that many of us couldn't have imagined to ask about the maddening practices of the US prison system. Montross writes with equal parts factual clarity and human compassion. She debunks common biases, applies her psychiatric expertise to the functions (and dysfunctions) of prison, and harnesses hope for a safer system, one that doesn't value vengeance over humanity. (GMC)

An interview with Montross is a short read or 36 minute listen on Fresh Air from NPR, and it offers a good overview of what she covers in Waiting for an Echo.

 

What Is Cooking: The Action: Cooking The Result: Cuisine by Ferran Adrià, Phaidon

Somewhere in the middle of reading Ferran Adrià’s latest book, What Is Cooking, I became overwhelmed. So I went into the kitchen to make a simple cake. Yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla, oil, rum—I whisked them together until smooth and golden. In went flour, baking powder, salt and it was ready for the oven, making my kitchen smell warm and sweet. It was such a simple recipe, but I realized while I was going through the motions that I was asking myself questions from Adrià’s book. Why am I gently whisking the batter instead of quickly stirring? So that more air is incorporated, and my cake will be fluffy. And what is the effect of that fluffiness? It will feel light and airy on my tongue. And what texture would pair well with that delicate crumb? On and on the questions go from the macro to the micro level, and I realized the chef had worked his magic once again.

Adrià was the chef at El Bulli, the world-renowned Spanish restaurant that closed its doors in 2011. He now runs El Bulli Foundation, which was formed to promote “innovation and creativity through the language of cooking.” One of the foundation’s largest undertakings is the Bullipedia, a multifaceted encyclopedia of gastronomy project, of which this staggering tome is just one part. The book utilizes Adrià’s “Sapiens” research methodology, “the system he started using at El Bulli [which] took him to the forefront of gastronomy,” and that he now promotes to foster innovation in the broader world. This rigorous exploration of the history and nature of cuisine is a different kind of food book—not exactly a textbook, even though there are scientific charts. Not exactly a cookbook, even though there are gorgeous photos of food. For example, a section called “Frying an egg with science” involves a flowchart of scientific elements, but no images of eggs nor pans. Reading the book revealed for me Adria’s dedication to excellence in his work, as I began to realize how many variables went into his planning and creation of the perfect dining experience (How will the food feel on the hand? How will the cooking technique effect the sound made by chewing the food? How will the temperature of the food change how you observe it visually?). In the days of take-out burgers from James Beard Award winning restaurants, I wonder how a place like El Bulli would have survived a pandemic. There’s far too much here for me to absorb and process in one week or one month. This book feels like a lifetime book, one you will come back to again and again as your experience grows, your palate develops, and your perspective shifts. It is the perfect gift for anyone who works in the fine dining world, in any role. (BRM)

If you want to go back in time and see Adrià in action at his legendary restaurant, we highly recommend the documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.

 

What we're reading away from work:

Hunger by Knut Hamsun"I am reading Hunger by Knut Hamsun right now. If you've lately been feeling like a dry leaf adrift on the breeze, this is a great book for you." —Michael Jantz, Custom Projects Director

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