Category Archives: Nonfiction

American Nations

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (Penguin Books, 2011).

Since I’m very interested in regional cultures of the U.S., this book has been on my list to read for a long time and I finally bought a copy. It was absolutely fascinating. Woodard explains so much about American history by dividing North America into 11 “ethnocultural nations” instead of the usual 50 states. He explains the origins of these regional cultures and how (amazingly) they have persisted since the 18th century. The eleven nations are the Left Coast, the Far West, First Nation (in Canada only), El Norte (partly in Mexico), the Deep South, New France, Tidewater, New Netherland (New York City), the Midlands (Philadelphia area, the Midwest and Ontario), and Yankeedom (New England, upstate NY and Minnesota/Wisconsin). Woodard makes a very strong argument for American history being almost entirely explained by the influence of and shifting alliances between these nations. I would love to hear how he explains Trump; perhaps he can be persuaded to write a second edition.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Politics, Social Science

Rules for Revolutionaries

Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).

This non-fiction book tells the story of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign from the unique perspective of mid-level paid staffers Becky Bond and Zack Exley. I was interested (as a CREDO Mobile customer) to learn that they came from CREDO. It is also literally a set of rules (one per chapter, alternating chapters by author) for organizing a political revolution in the sense of a mass populist movement, not a violent overthrowing of government. This is not the usual high level campaign retrospective, written by the candidate him or herself; this is about the day to day organizing problems and how they were solved, and the lessons that were learned for next time. Some of the takeaways include the advantages of the vast mobilization of volunteers for Bernie, and the way the paid staff were able to leverage consumer software tools to manage and fully utilize those volunteers.

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Why Dinosaurs Matter

Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth  Lacovara (TED Books, Simon & Schuster, 2017)

This small (but bright orange) hardback is the book version of Dr. Lacovara’s TED talk, which I saw and which was also awesome. He is a surprisingly good writer for a paleontologist. Why Dinosaurs Matter  is charmingly illustrated by Mike Lemanski and is easily accessible to all high school and adult readers. In 2005, Dr. Lacovara (now at Rowan University in New Jersey), discovered one of the largest dinosaurs that ever lived, and named it Dreadnoughtus. This book is the story of that discovery, but also the story of how geology and paleontology became sciences, and how understanding our planet’s past is critical to its future. I was interested to realize that human have only known about dinosaurs for a couple hundred years; before the early 19th century, the widespread belief that the earth was only 6,000 years old kept people from interpreting fossils for what they were. Dr. Lacovara also emphasizes that dinosaurs are now known to have been killed off by an asteroid hitting the earth; they did not simply “fail to adapt” to changing conditions, as implied in Disney’s movie Fantasia. Also, they did not all become extinct; the “non-avian” ones evolved into birds. Science is amazing.

 

 

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Filed under Environment, Nonfiction, Science

Troublemaker

Troublemaker by Leah Remini (Ballantine Books, 2015)

The sub-title of the book tells exactly what kind of troublemaker Leah Remini is – “How I Survived Hollywood and Scientology.” This memoir of a celebrity television actress is not hilarious like the one by the star of Parks and Recreation; it’s disturbing, but fascinating. Lots of celebrities write about Hollywood, but no one writes about Scientology, and Leah explains why. Those who still belong to the “church” of Scientology (which has no deity) are strictly forbidden to do so, and if you have friends or family still in it (and most do) when you escape, they will be punished for your speaking out, as well as never being allowed to contact you again.

Leah Remini spent over 30 years in Scientology before she finally realized what it was doing to her. She doesn’t get any points for brilliance there, but she has a good heart. The mandatory constant psychological training is promoted as making you and the world better, which can be a trap for people with good intentions but little education – Leah dropped out of school in the 8th grade because not surprisingly, the “church” discourages formal education. They demand that members constantly purchase courses of study to get various levels of certification, putting most of them in terrible debt, as Leah points out. But the worst part is the punishments that are doled out for any kind of deviation from policy, major or minor, and the way Scientology controls its members. Leah should be applauded for escaping from this cult and telling the world what this surprising large and powerful organization is really like. I encourage everyone to read this book.

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Filed under Biography, Nonfiction

The Far Away Brothers

The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham (Penguin Random House LLC, 2017)

I thought this was going to be a novel but in fact it is not, though it reads like one. It is the true story of two young immigrants who came to the U.S. from El Salvador. The author is a teacher at a California high school for immigrants and also a journalist who writes about the immigration system. The young men, who are twins, agreed to let their story be told. It is not sugar-coated to bring out sympathy in the reader, but it does so anyway. While I feel that the United States has a very violent culture, it’s safe compared to El Salvador, where the teenage gangs have literally taken over the country and murder people with impunity to hold their power.  

The book answers a lot of questions I had about immigrants and helps me understand their situation better. The only unanswered question is why people always migrate to the U.S. instead of heading south to South American countries that share their language and culture. Maybe someone will write that book next. The author did mention that since 2014, some immigrants are settling in Mexico rather than trying to get all the way to the United States.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Uncategorized

The General’s Son

The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine by Miko Peled (Just World Books, 2012)

I recently heard Miko Peled speak at a conference, and after his speech I immediately bought his book. His story is very eye-opening for someone like me who has been consuming “mainstream media” coverage of Israel all my life. Peled is the son of a famous Israeli general who distinguished himself in both the 1948 and 1967 conflicts. But his father Matti Peled went on to become a peace activist, and Miko followed in his footsteps despite the way this stance put him at odds with his fellow Israelis.  As a young man, Miko Peled moved to southern California, opened a karate studio, and started a family. Then in 1997, after his 13-year-old niece was killed in a random bombing in Jerusalem, he joined a group of Palestinian peace activists in California. He started making several trips to Israel every year to get to know the Palestinian situation and try to help them (for example with medical supplies).

Over time Peled came to champion the Palestinian cause. He believes that a “two-state” solution is unfair (since Israel has taken nearly all of the Palestinian’s land) and the only real solution is a secular democracy where both peoples have equal rights. I have always thought the same thing myself and wondered why no else supported the idea. However I naively thought Palestinians were allowed to live anywhere in Israel and were only deprived of their religious rights, when in fact they are crammed into two small areas (Gaza and West Bank) and not allowed to travel or live anywhere else in the country.  In this book Peled makes his point by relating many horrifying stories about how Israelis abuses and kills Palestinians, some of which he personally witnessed. It is also pretty clear that the police abuse of American citizens we have been seeing here in the last few years has its origins in the way American and Israeli soldiers in the Middle East behave.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Politics

Code Red: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century

Code Red: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century by Jonathan D. Simon (self-published, to buy go to www.codered2016.com)

I purchased this book after hearing the author speak at a conference on election reform. It’s definitely worth reading. Jonathan Simon, executive director of Election Defense Alliance, makes a strong case for the probability of computerized election theft. The United States has had computerized voting machines nationwide since the Help America Vote Act was passed as a reaction to the voting issues of the 2000 Presidential Election. This machines are built and programmed by private contractors, and totally under their control. There is no way to subpoena them to get an audit trail or access to the machines, because this information is considered proprietary. We are supposed to just trust the companies (who are all owned by Republican supporters). Therefore, conveniently, there is no way for those who question election results to produce evidence that election theft occurred. Nevertheless, Simon has spent the past 15 years doing forensic analysis of voting results and exit polls, and has very compelling statistical evidence that someone is changing votes in key contests so that right wing candidates win much more often than exit polls would indicate they should. It’s a fascinating and disturbing look into our supposedly democratic voting process.

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