Books to Watch | June 23, 2020
June 23, 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 five new books we are most excited about.
This week, our choices are:
Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City by Wes Moore, with Erica L. Green, One World
Wes Moore’s new book is an oral and social history of the uprising in Baltimore after police killed Freddie Gray in 2015. It is told through the stories of seven lives, interwoven and intersected, as they were lived out on the ground from April 25 through the the 29th, “the most dramatic period of the unrest” in the city after Gray was pronounced dead at the Shock Trauma Center of the University of Maryland Medical Center. But the trauma didn’t begin or end there. One of the lives Moore tells us of is lived by a woman named Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West was also killed by the Baltimore police, two years before Gray, and whose death, when an independent review of his autopsy was done, concluded it to be the result of “positional asphyxia.” Perhaps if we’d heard his name as his sister called it out through her bullhorn on the streets of Baltimore every week since his death, George Floyd and so many others would still be alive today. That is a hypothetical scenario that is painful to contemplate, but here are some very real ones Moore points out that are just as painful.
"What happens when your political representatives seem to be more concerned with the interests of the wealthy and already powerful and are careless or contemptuous in the face of genuine human pain and distress? And what happens when the people who are paid to protect you are your predators? Your institutions of support become your captors. Your saviors become your jailers."
Wes Moore runs one of the largest and most “quantifiably effective” philanthropies working to reduce poverty in this country. And yet, he acknowledges our individual efforts, even as large as his, are insufficient, that we need collective action and institutional change. He knows his own story of overcoming poverty often lets people “believe that individual effort could overcome obstacles, so they wouldn’t have to think too hard about systems, structures, and policies that make stories like [his] so rare.” So, he believes:
"Our collective pursuit of justice must be as aggressive and intentional as the systemwide injustice that we now encounter."
Wes Moore’s Five Days is perfectly—though perhaps tragically—timed. The stories and voices he shares need to be heard and amplified as they echo the moment we are now in, of the systemic injustice that we’ve been stuck in since the founding of this country. The world itself is not ending. An old world is ending, and a new one is being born. We all need to be as present as possible in its midwifery, to support and speak up for each other and a better day. (DJJS)
We highly recommend NPR’s 40-minute interview with Wes Moore on the current Black Lives Matter movement and what we can learn from the 2015 uprisings after what happened to Freddie Gray.
The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy by Katherine M. Gehl & Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review Press
Michael Porter has written 19 books over the years, most applying his Five Forces framework for understanding competition in industry. It was not until he met Katherine Gehl and went to work analyzing her family’s Wisconsin manufacturing company, Gehl Foods, that he began turning his attention to politics. As he writes in the introduction of the new book he coauthored with Gehl:
"Looking back, I see now that I accepted as normal the toxic gridlock and learned helplessness our political system teaches."
In 2017, the two published a report with Harvard Business School, where Porter has long taught, entitled “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America”—a piece that eventually led to this book. The book’s ambition is no less than to act as “a road map for breaking partisan gridlock and saving our democracy.” One of the first things they want you to understand is the peculiar nature of this situation we find ourselves in, that “the political-industrial complex is a private industry within a public institution.” It is a systems problem, a system that is dividing us. But we don’t have to let it. The authors look not only at the problems we face, but to our history, applying the Five Forces framework to politics of the first Gilded Age, and the Progressive reforms and “structural innovations to make politics work for the people, not for political actors.” They changed everything from the way we cast our ballots to the role of money in politics, and we can do it again. (DJJS)
“The Industry of Politics Exposed By Michael Porter & Katherine Gehl” is a comprehensive conversation from Valuetainment about the political industry and how innovation can break partisan gridlock and save our democracy.
The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices by Casper ter Kuile, HarperOne
The complexity of the world is something to celebrate: the many spiritual/gender/ethnic identities that comprise our cities is astounding. And yet, even in pre-quarantine times, we spent a lot of time in solitude with social media making us depressed, anxious and anything but social.
I was quickly reminded of Sasha Sagan's book For Small Creatures Such as We, which connects science to the roots of religion and explains how to benefit from the sacred feeling of religious rituals without needing to adopt a certain faith system. At the center of both Sagan's and ter Kuile's books is connecting to community in everyday ways, infusing meaning into simple phrases and actions by simply saying or doing them ritually.
"[R]eading is not just something we can do to escape the world, but rather that it can help us live more deeply in it, that we can read our favorite books not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that can teach us about ourselves and how we live."
Ter Kuile examines the landscape of contemporary religion-like communities like CrossFit-ers and Harry Potter readers (he's a co-host of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text), and he reveals the religious qualities of personal traditions like night swimming in summer or decorating an entryway table with books, flowers, or paintings that reflect the season. The Power of Ritual is a fascinating, accessible, and entertaining book that will appeal to anyone struggling to feel connected to the world or themselves. Whether you find your religion in books, art, gardening, music, fitness, food, stretching, sitting, swimming, traveling or none or all of the above, just know you are welcome here. (GMC)
The book's preface is written by Dacher Keltner who teaches "the science of happiness" at UC Berkeley, and while we can't all attend his classes, we can listen to his podcast or browse his website for other online courses and content.
Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You by Capricia Penavic Marshall, Ecco
Capricia Marshall is the daughter of immigrants: a Mexican mother who came to the United States with her family as a child, and a Croatian father who arrived in his twenties after escaping from the Yugoslavian army and its communist government. They didn’t always feel entirely accepted or welcome in their new homeland, but they found each other and started a family, believed in the democratic ideals of the country, and raised a daughter who would go on to become the Chief of Protocol of the United States.
"Our country’s democratic ideals held a supremely honored status in our family of immigrants, a reverence I carried with me around the world in my role as chief of protocol. As the first person to greet world leaders on behalf of the president (one of the many thrilling duties of the position), I shook every leader’s hand infused with an unwavering belief in our country’s goodness. […] At the core of my role was something so innate and familiar, something critical and wonderful I’d been witnessing and doing since I was a child: Building bridges between cultures and people, no matter the odds."
When her service in the State Department came to an end and she entered the private sector, advising businesses, nonprofits, boards and individuals, she found there to be a dearth of knowledge of proper etiquette and protocol. She was told often that she should write a book on the topic. This is that book, and it is one we can all benefit from personally and professionally—as leaders and colleagues at work, as parents and partners at home, and as friends members of our communities. (DJJS)
There are a few controversial components of this book: First, it is written about and for privileged white women in the United States. Your (and my) first thought may be "is there not enough books like that?" or "what about highlighting those with diverse and suppressed voices or perspectives?" However, author Jenna Arnold replies with, among many good points and shocking statistics: "the change we wish to see in the world is more attainable with white women engaged in conversations about injustice."
I think about all the privileged white people who don't bother to vote because they're already being represented in their governments or who engage in debates on Facebook steamrolling over the Black Lives Matter movement with the hashtag #AllLivesMatter. And then I start to understand the necessity of engaging those who struggle with seeing their direct and indirect impacts on marginalized communities. Some statistics Arnold shares include:
- White women comprised 85% of the 5.2 million (or more) who marched at the original Women's March of 2017
- American white women's purchasing power "was estimated at $12.1 trillion in 2018"
- "More than 53 million white women reported voting in the 2016 election—a larger group than white men or any other voting block combined"
Rather than being complacent with one's place in life, Arnold challenges her reader to question the world they've only ever experienced from a place of privilege. Her humble attitude and statistics-based perspective convinced me, only a few pages in, that this book is one of the few white privileged voices we should be reading right now. Reading this book will very thoroughly help you "check your privilege," calling you to the frontlines of justice to use the whole of your power to, not just your own, but to all people's advantage. (GMC)
Raising Our Hands was featured on several book lists recently, such as this one on Forbes called “First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism Resources For White People.”
What we're reading away from work:
"Dr. François Clemmons's new memoir Officer Clemmons takes us back to a time when racial tensions were high and homosexuality was a social disease. This is one man's journey through acceptance, not just in society but in himself as well. During the month of Pride and Juneteenth, take time to read about one man's story about what it's like to be an openly gay, black man with a wonderful singing voice. " —Roy Normington, Senior Customer Service Specialist