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Books to Watch | September 29, 2020

September 29, 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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As the World Burns: The New Generation of Activists and the Landmark Legal Fight Against Climate Change by Lee van der Voo, Timber Press

Like many of humanity’s biggest issues, fighting climate change is an endless task, so starting earlier rather than later is essential. Earlier, as in now, as well as earlier in each human being's life. This is why young people, those who have the longest amount of time left on Earth, are meaningful participants in the discussions about our planet's health and its (their) future. This is why young people's voices must be heard and their needs and rights must be upheld.

In As the World Burns, journalist Lee van der Voo shares the story of Juliana v. the United States of 2015, a significant lawsuit initiated by 21 youth between the ages of 8 and 19 in which it was ruled that:

the government's actions to cause climate change violate their [the plaintiffs and young people's] civil rights to life, liberty, and property. Not only that, but also that the government has known about the risks of climate change for decades and persisted in helping to cause it anyway, failing to implement its own plans to regulate greenhouse gases while subsidizing, authorizing, and permitting a fossil fuel energy system that worsens global warming every day.

The ruling was reversed in 2020, sadly, but attorneys for Juliana et al. have appealed.

The urgency of this moment in our country's history is apparent. There are countless causes for each of us to learn more about and become involved in. Or, rather, causes in which we should actively fight, since we are all already in some way involved in and affected by these problems. van der Voo's As the World Burns is a work of vivid journalism about the lives of the young plaintiffs, the environmental and personal impacts of climate change, and the government's neglectfulness of mitigating those impacts. She raises important points about the efficiency of our laws, the moral and existential concerns of those most impacted by climate change, how the media portrays (or does not portray) the climate crisis, and more. As the World Burns reminds us all, young and old, to take responsibility for, not just our planet, but also our government. (GMC)

 

REGISTER TO VOTE. AND THEN VOTE! 

 

Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime by Jennifer Taub, Viking

The United States has under 5 percent of the world's population, and over 20 percent of the world's prison population. Crime doesn’t pay, they say, and those statistics suggest that this is true here, that we are tough on crime in America. But if you wear a white collar to work, that doesn’t hold true. As people march in the streets for criminal justice reform, and politicians across the political spectrum have come to agree that mass incarceration is a serious systemic issue in our country, Jennifer Taub writes of how, when it comes to white collar crime:

It is amazing how fraud just happens. No one is to blame. Executives retire wealthy. Customers and employees lose a lot. Shareholders lose a little, sometimes.

In the case of Purdue Pharma, many customers lost their lives after becoming addicted to OxyContin, which the company fraudulently claimed was not addictive in its aggressive marketing as it flooded Appalachia and other rural communities with its painkillers and sparked a national opioid epidemic unseen in scope—becoming the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States—since Bayer trademarked “heroin” in the 1890s. No one in the Sackler family, who owns the company, or any of the company’s executives have even been threatened with time in jail for their role, and the fines and settlements they face will still leave them immensely wealthy. Being a street level drug dealer might not pay, but being the world’s largest seems to. 

But it is not just Purdue. As Jennifer Taub documents thoroughly in Big Dirty Money, there is a white collar crime wave that has spread in industry after industry, and into the halls of government. This reality is laid bare when an incumbent president can, with a straight face, claim he is running for reelection on a law and order platform in the same year that he pardoned a slew of convicted criminals for offenses including: “Bribery, investment fraud, tax evasion, Medicare fraud, public corruption, computer hacking, an extortion cover- up, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the federal government, obstruction of justice, mail fraud, wire fraud.” As Taub writes:

The official White House Announcement used the word “successful” four times to describe these elite outlaws, but made no mention of the ordinary people they victimized.

Imagine a judge letting off a street level heroin dealer for their entrepreneurial and organizational skills. Imagine the impact that would have on the community, and then extrapolate that out to those with much more power in the overall economy. Equating financial gain with success, even if it came as a result of criminal behavior, proves that:

Big cheaters often prosper, and they do it right in front of our faces.

In the time of COVID, the truth is that we have been living through another epidemic—one of white collar crime and corruption—and those perpetrating it have become nearly immune from prosecution or consequences. But the rest of us pay a significant price as it corrupts our political process, undermines the stability and fairness of our economy, defrauds us as individuals, and even literally kills us. It is time to bring it out in the open, as Taub does so skillfully in her new book, so that we can begin to address it. (DJJS)

 

Lemongrass and Lime: Southeast Asian Cooking at Home by Leah Cohen with Stephanie Banyas, Avery

Sometimes a change of scenery is the only thing needed to change one’s life. My husband and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin shortly after getting married so he could attend veterinary school. It was our first home together and filled with wonderful memories of new love. One of which was eating a meal on our floor from our beloved and now-shuttered Bahn Thai. We ended that delicious meal—and every subsequent one for the next four years—with Sticky Rice and Mango. We fell in love with the dish—the sweet mango, the creamy rice, the crunchy bits on top I could never quite identify. To this day, “Sticky Rice and Mango” is our code for the feelings of those early days of our relationship in a city that felt magical and adventurous. 

After her experience as a Top Chef contestant, Leah Cohen realized that she, too, needed a change of scenery. A new lens on her life. She embarked on a lengthy travel adventure around Southeast Asia to soak in her mother’s Filipino cuisine, along with food from the region at large-—visiting and cooking her way through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Myanmar. She was searching for her own personal style of cooking, informed not by the New York City Italian restaurants she came up in as a young chef, but rather something closer to the bone. It was this journey that directly led to opening Pig & Khao, her Filipino-Thai fusion restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and now her first cookbook, Lemongrass and Lime.

Cohen’s informative recipe headnotes help you navigate the specificities of the region (you’ll learn that pickled vegetables signify a salad’s Malaysian origin), and her suggested brands for ingredients are most welcome for a novice (I’ve been using the default sriracha in my grocery store, but I will now seek out Shark brand!). In addition, Cohen’s introductory chapter on the Southeast Asian pantry is engaging and helpful for those new to the region’s cuisine, making you feel supremely confident shopping for the noodles, rices, spices and sauces needed to dive in.

And when you do dive in—oh boy, get ready. From Broken Mussel Pancake and Thai Herbal Sausage to Thai Fried Egg Salad and Vietnamese Butter Quail with Salt and Pepper Dipping Sauce, you are in for a phenomenal treat. I’m personally itching to try the deceptively simple Cilantro Soda, the Pineapple Curry with Mussels (a sweet and savory combo I never would have imagined on my own), and the Singaporean White Pepper Lobster might be my new go-to meal for special occasions. It will be served alongside her recipe for Sticky Rice and Mango, of course! (BRM)

 

A Passion for Ignorance: What We Choose Not to Know and Why by Renata Salecl, Princeton University Press

"Ignorance is bliss" goes the saying. But what may be easier for one person to ignore can easily harm a whole community. While it's easy for one to denounce ignorance in favor of knowledge, empathy, and understanding, Renata Salecl provides another perspective, one that is more forgiving for the sake of our health. However, it is important to consider the line between ignorance and denial, as the book's introduction points out, using as an example President Trump's blind optimism in the wake of COVID-19.

The way people relate to knowledge is highly contextual; and what is considered to be knowledge is not only socially constructed but also highly individual. To complicate things further, people often embrace ignorance or denial […] when they come close to knowledge that is somehow unbearable.

How easy it is to ignore one's own ignorance… Though less than 200 pages, A Passion for Ignorance presents important talking points and studies that will make you reflect on yourself and how you may or may not make space for difficult truths in your life. Besides the ignorance that helps humans maintain the status quo, Salecl explains the function of ignorance in social situations as well as in internal-focused situations, when anxiety kicks in and we just need to protect ourselves from either external forces or our own thoughts. Sometimes ignorance is more simple than bliss. It is survival. (GMC)

 

When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America's Obsession with Economic Efficiency by Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review Press

We talk about American capitalism, and we talk about American democracy. But we tend to treat them as separate components of our system rather than an integrated system of American democratic capitalism. But we do live in a market democracy—not a market economy set aside and separated from our democracy. 

In his new book When More Is Not Better, Roger Martin explains how the economy itself has been broken into its constituent parts—separated out and dissected for study—over the years in an effort to optimize and perfect how each part functions, and how this mindset has failed us: 

This pattern of thinking and its resulting actions have produced progressively more problematic outcomes—systematically rising inequality and fragile systems among them—that are starting to fracture the once solid combination of democracy and capitalism. 

Indeed, the economic models driving our economy and the focus on efficiency has undermined the economic security and mobility that has built and sustained Americans’ faith in democratic capitalism in the past. Martin argues that, instead of focusing on efficiency, we should instead focus on resilience.   

We should instead understand the economy in more natural terms, as a complex adaptive system—one that is too complex to be perfectible, one that continuously adapts in ways that will almost almost always frustrate any attempts to engineer it for perfection.

Continuous improvement is possible. It should be, and is, expected. But for the past 40+ years, American democratic capitalism has simply not provided the economic gains and continuous improvement for most people that we have come to expect of it. It is a systemic issue, but Martin is wise enough to have explored its effects on the lives of individuals—their lived experiences, opinions, and outlooks—by embarking on a six-year project at the The Martin Prosperity Institute conducting in-depth interviews called the Persona Project. Nearly 60 percent of the book Martin gives us as a result is focused on solutions already in place that we can build on to improve our lives, our businesses, our economy, and our faith in democratic capitalism. (DJJS)

 

What we're reading away from work:

Dragman by Steven Appleby“I just read the graphic novel Dragman by open transvestite Steven Appleby about a mild-mannered regular Londoner, August, who gains superpowers and turns into Dragman after he puts on women's clothes.  It's all about finding the good in yourself and the power to become a better person.  Along with his sidekick, Dog-Girl, they battle villains and societal stereotypes while they search for the person that is stealing people's souls. The drawings are fantastic as is the message.”

Roy Normington, Senior Customer Service Specialist

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