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In How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future, journalist Maria Ressa, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, gives readers a riveting inside view of what it’s like to be a dissident fighting authoritarianism. This engrossing book is a political history of the Philippines and an intimate memoir, but it’s also a warning to democracies everywhere: Authoritarianism is a threat to us all.

Since the 1980s, Ressa has been a journalist who speaks truth to power, but her path to success unfolded almost by accident. Born in the Philippines, Ressa was brought at age 10 to the United States, where she was raised by her mother and stepfather. When she first arrived, she felt like a confused outsider but quickly realized she felt comfortable at school and could thrive there if she followed these rules for herself: Always choose to learn, embrace your fear, and stand up to bullies. Those courageous lessons would follow her throughout her life as a journalist and a critic of dictators.

Upon returning to the Philippines as an adult, Ressa worked for CNN and then ABS-CBN, where she was head of the news division while the political climate in the Philippines was becoming more and more volatile. She later co-founded her own news service, Rappler, with the intention of integrating social media, citizen journalism and data into old-fashioned journalism. However, she increasingly found that social media, Facebook in particular, and corrupt politicians made for very dangerous bedfellows. Through Rappler’s data-collecting and help from her readers, Ressa discovered that social media was helping to fuel fascism in the Philippines. Disinformation spread quickly and widely because people tended to share information (even lies) when strong emotions were attached to the content. When she brought this to Facebook’s attention, they dismissed her concerns.

With the help of these disinformation campaigns, Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines in 2016. He won in a landslide based on false promises of fighting crime and corruption. In reality, he was shutting down press freedoms, ordering gruesome extra-judicial killings and handing out government positions to loyalists and corrupt officials. Ressa’s scrutiny of his administration has led to two arrests for cyber libel; she has been convicted and is currently awaiting her appeal.

The exceptional details in this memoir are both tactile and persistent; you can almost feel and smell the blood as Ressa describes a crime scene. Her ability to recount the finer details of some of the scariest moments of her life (such as witnessing a military coup) is nothing short of breathtaking. Highly researched yet accessible, How to Stand Up to a Dictator is a plea to the world: The best way to maintain a democracy is a strong press, free from corruption and disinformation.

Maria Ressa’s book is a political history of the Philippines and an intimate memoir, but it’s also a warning to democracies everywhere: Authoritarianism is a threat to us all.
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Since 1973, when President Richard Nixon and Congress created the all-volunteer force as an alternative to conscripted military service, there has been a division between the American public and the military. Less than one-half of 1% of our population currently serves on active duty. And as the public has watched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue on for years after 9/11, they have become more uncertain than ever about U.S. missions.

But active duty and retired military personnel have become more uncertain too. In an enlightening new book, Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Misguided Wars, a diverse group of veterans who volunteered and served in those wars tell us what they saw, did and learned. In these original essays, selected by co-editors Andrew Bacevich and Daniel A. Sjursen for their candor and eloquence, the contributors share their reasons for deciding to serve, why they became disillusioned and why they now feel the need to speak out about “military policies that they deem ill advised, illegal, or morally unconscionable.”

Erik Edstrom, a West Point graduate, was an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan, where he “saw the systematic dehumanization and devaluation of Afghan lives on a regular basis. . . . It’s one of America’s deepest ironies: in efforts to ‘prevent terrorism’ in our country, we commit far larger acts of terrorism elsewhere,” he writes. Joy Damiani was an enlisted public affairs specialist who served two tours in Iraq. “According to the Army’s official narrative,” she writes, “the war was always in the process of being won. There were never any mistakes, never any defeats, and certainly never any failures.” Buddhika Jayamaha was an airborne infantryman in Iraq. He and many others “felt that the extreme hubris of American politicians and the commentariat was responsible for the mess in Iraq.”

Bacevich, who served for 23 years in the Army, including in Vietnam, writes that “genuine military dissent is patriotic.” Any citizen who wants to better understand our country’s current military entrapments will want to read this book.

In 17 original essays, U.S. veterans share their reasons for deciding to serve, why they became disillusioned with the military and why they now feel the need to speak out against its misguided policies.
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“The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing—one person, one vote,” wrote Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas in 1963. It seems simple enough. However, as we learn in fascinating and depressing detail from Nick Seabrook’s wide-ranging history, One Person, One Vote, when politicians intentionally draw boundaries for partisan advantage, politicians pick their voters rather than voters picking politicians.

The practice known today as gerrymandering began long before the term first appeared in 1812, when Governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced with a hard G) of Massachusetts signed a bill that seriously distorted voting districts for political purposes. He was not directly involved in preparing the legislation and found it distasteful, but his name nonetheless became attached to it. Gerry later served as vice president under James Madison. Earlier in Madison’s career, Patrick Henry had used the tactic in an unsuccessful attempt to keep Madison from being elected to the House of Representatives. If Madison had lost the election, we might not have his Bill of Rights.

Prior to the 1970s, when the constitutional mandate to redistrict every 10 years went into effect, gerrymandering was the exception rather than the norm. Politicians only used this tactic when it was necessary or expedient, which was rare—especially since the detailed election data and computer technology that has become so crucial to modern election strategy was not yet available.

Those who benefit from gerrymandering are determined not to lose their advantage. Even the Supreme Court has failed to address the harms of the practice. On three separate occasions, challenges to the most pervasive partisan gerrymanders of the 21st century have come before the Supreme Court, but reformers came away disappointed. Instead, change has almost always come from concerned citizens who convinced elected officials to take on the issue.

Seabrook’s important book should be of interest to every citizen who wants to better understand what goes on behind the scenes as political parties seek power.

Nick Seabrook’s One Person, One Vote should be read by every citizen who wants to understand what goes on behind the scenes as political parties seek power.
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Fifty years after the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act, two new books capture the history of those tumultuous times. The story of the law’s passage is not just about the legislative process, though its approval by Congress was anything but a foregone conclusion. It’s a story about grassroots activism, unexpected allies, the clash of personalities and political posturing. It’s about finally putting an end to institutional racism and beginning the slow process towards justice and reconciliation.

Clay Risen’s The Bill of the Century and Todd Purdum’s An Idea Whose Time Has Come both cover the same chronological period (January 1963–July 1964) and events: key developments in the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, the introduction of the Civil Rights bill in Congress, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the transition from Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson and Johnson’s efforts to shepherd the bill into law. The books delve into the personalities, loyalties and strategies employed on Capitol Hill for and against the bill. These latter sections prove to be some of the most fascinating sections of both books, as the authors carefully set up the scenario for the final showdown on the Senate floor.

For those not familiar with the way bills become laws, the intricate details about procedure, cloture and filibuster can be daunting. What’s most interesting about these details is the way lawmakers used relationships to build support for the bill. This bridge-building certainly reflects a less-partisan time when politicians were willing to cross the aisle to support a worthy cause. At times the lawmakers were motivated by self-interest, but at other times they reflected personal conscience and the will of their constituents back home, both grassroots activists and ordinary citizens alike who leaned on their representatives to pass the Civil Rights Act.

Though the books are similar, Purdum’s lens is a wider in scope. While Risen concentrates mostly on the doings of lawmakers, Purdum touches on some incidents occurring at the time the bill was in Congress. In particular, he describes the pressure placed on Martin Luther King Jr. by FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, who seemed to have a special hatred for the Civil Rights leader. Releasing a scathing document about King that linked him to well-known Communists, Hoover apparently forced Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to initiate surveillance of King’s headquarters in Atlanta. This is the seamy side of Washington, when people become pawns in the fight to advance the very legislation they hope to pass.

Nowadays, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is something we take for granted. The Bill of the Century and An Idea Whose Time Has remind us of what life was like before the law was passed, and how the law itself was indeed “an idea whose time has come.”

Fifty years after the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act, two new books capture the history of those tumultuous times. The story of the law’s passage is not just about the legislative process, though its approval by Congress was anything but a foregone conclusion. It’s a story about grassroots activism, unexpected allies, the clash of personalities and political posturing. It’s about finally putting an end to institutional racism and beginning the slow process towards justice and reconciliation.
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How has the United States changed over the past 250 years, and how has it remained the same? Here are five gift ideas for readers with a serious interest in where we’ve come from, how we got this far and just how far we have left to go.

The word “frenemies” wasn’t around during the founding of the United States, but it could certainly be applied to the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, which is detailed by Gordon S. Wood in Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The acerbic Adams and the idealistic Jefferson were divided by geography and social standing in addition to temperament. Yet they forged a friendship in the early days of the nation before later falling out over issues large and small as the years rolled by and both served presidential terms. The rift was healed with the help of a mutual friend in their later years, providing a heartwarming ending to the intertwined biographies of two men who famously both died on the Fourth of July, 1826. Their differences remained to the end, but as Wood shows—with the help of the numerous letters between the pair that survive—the combatants’ jousting took on a mutually respectful tone. A 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for The Radicalism of the American Revolution, Wood is a skillful guide to Revolutionary-era principles, both profound and personal.

EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Historian Mike Wallace is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his co-authorship of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, and he has now produced the second volume in the series, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, and it’s a worthy sequel packed with insight and information. Organized by topic, it can be read straight through (just not all in one sitting) or approached as an encyclopedia, jumping from section to section while savoring the photos and illustrations. If you want to start with dessert, flip to the Cultures section, with its histories of Broadway, the Bronx Zoo, Coney Island and more. But don’t overlook the more serious fare, most notably the excellent explanations of the rise of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and the history of the island’s famous tunnels and bridges. Through it all, Wallace holds to a historian’s tone that maintains an easy appeal with the casual reader.

WE HAVE HIT BOTTOM
If anyone ever appeared to be eminently qualified to be president of the United States, it was Herbert Hoover. A self-made millionaire largely untainted by politics, Hoover had a long history of rolling up his sleeves and getting important work done when he was elected to the job in 1928. So how did things go off the rails, ending with his defeat by Franklin Delano Roosevelt four years later? Kenneth Whyte tackles that question and more in Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. While no apologist for the man who became synonymous with the Great Depression, Whyte details how Hoover was up against worldwide economic forces that he had no way of controlling and points out that the hard times continued long into Roosevelt’s presidency. Just as interesting, however, are Whyte’s accounts of Hoover’s early life, from his rise from orphanhood to world-traveling problem solver, and his post-presidency attempt to restore his image and regain his place among the 20th century’s most admired people.

A KEN BURNS COMPANION
Another Ken Burns PBS series? Delightful! And with the series comes the companion book, The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, by Burns and historian Geoffrey C. Ward. Burns’ style has proven irresistible over the years: It’s straight history inter­spersed with personal vignettes and peppered with photographs. The iconic images from the war are here, of course, but look for the lesser-known shots, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson watching television coverage of the war in bed with his wife, Lady Bird, or an overhead shot of the famed Ho Chi Minh Trail, which continued to be used despite multiple American airstrikes. Still, the personal stories—from all sides—will grab the reader most tightly, as individual soldiers are followed from enlistment to, in one case, the day an obituary appears in a hometown newspaper.

RACE AND DEMOCRACY
The winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates has produced a new book of essays—some new, some previously published in The Atlantic—titled We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, which refers to a quote from a Reconstruction-era congressman but also, of course, to President Barack Obama’s two terms as president. Coates, a black man, was astonished by Obama’s election, and in a scathing epilogue, sees his successor, Donald Trump, as a return to the natural order of things. Indeed, Coates views him as the nation’s “first white president,” because “his entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president.” But it’s not all presidential politics with Coates—two of the most thought-provoking essays included in the book are “The Case for Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”

 

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

How has the United States changed over the past 250 years, and how has it remained the same? Here are five gift ideas for readers with a serious interest in where we’ve come from, how we got this far and just how far we have left to go.

You've got goals, and we've got the books to help you achieve them. Tackle your resolutions with these 10 books.


The Formula: The Universal Laws of Succes
By Albert-László Barabási

RESOLUTION: Work better, not harder, to reach your goals.
FRESH TAKE: If life were a fair fight, talent plus work ethic is all you’d need to succeed—but we’ve all been passed over for opportunities we’re qualified for. With this data-driven book, Albert-László Barabási explores the universal forces that affect our likelihood of success or failure.
GOOD ADVICE: The differences among top contenders in any category are so tiny that they’re essentially immeasurable—which means wine connoisseurs only know so much, and a nice Pinot can come at any price.


Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection
By Haemin Sunim

RESOLUTION: Practice self-love (beyond just buying bath bombs).
FRESH TAKE: In this gentle, kindhearted guide to inner peace, the Zen Buddhist teacher Haemin Sunim argues that if one begins with self-acceptance, one will have greater empathy for others and an easier time adapting to life’s trials.
GOOD AVICE: When beset with negative emotions, observe your own feelings and then try to trace them back to their roots. You might realize that a bad experience in your past or a subconscious insecurity is influencing your behavior.


How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment—the Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life
By Sophie Hannah

RESOLUTION: Embrace your negative side.
FRESH TAKE: Novelist Sophie Hannah believes that nursing one’s grudges can lead to greater self-knowledge, personal growth and healthier boundaries.
GOOD ADVICE: By using Hannah’s hilarious grudge-grading system, you can channel your angry feelings into a deeper understanding of your own values and set necessary boundaries.


No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work
By Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy

RESOLUTION: Feel great about your work.
FRESH TAKE: Two former tech workers offer a fresh, funny approach to handling workplace relationships. By leaning on emotional intelligence, you, too, can navigate the pitfalls of modern office life. 
GOOD ADVICE: Establish context and trust with colleagues by using “richer communication” channels like voice chat before relying on written, and often misinterpreted, methods like email and instant messages.


Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More
By Elizabeth Emens

RESOLUTION: Overcome invisible labor.
FRESH TAKE: From disputing bills to planning a vacation, Elizabeth Emens introduces readers to the concept of admin, our sometimes onerous daily to-do list. Through relatable anecdotes, she breaks down the types of admin in our lives and offers advice on balancing tasks and relationships.
GOOD ADVICE: Talk with your partner about how to divvy up household duties before moving in together or getting married.


Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age
By Mary Pipher

RESOLUTION: Chart the course for the next phase of your life.
FRESH TAKE: Women face many challenges as they age: misogyny, ageism and physical changes. Yet psychologist Mary Pipher shows that most older women are more content than their younger selves. Pipher offers warm, empathetic guidelines for navigating aging and for recognizing its unexpected gifts. 
GOOD ADVICE: Every life stage is filled with pain and difficulties. The challenges and changes presented by aging are different, but they also present new ways to learn about yourself and cultivate empathy. 


The Monkey Is the Messenger: Meditation and What Your Busy Mind Is Trying to Tell You
By Ralph De La Rosa

RESOLUTION: Finally get into mindfulness and meditation.
FRESH TAKE: Everyone knows we should be meditating, but what if your thoughts just won’t shut up? Ralph De La Rosa draws on Buddhism, neuroscience and psychology to posit that instead of growing increasingly frustrated with these intrusive thoughts, we should accept them as a part of ourselves and use them as a tool to understand ourselves better. 
GOOD ADVICE: Try not to allow circumstances to dictate your emotions. Instead, accept circumstances and view them as an opportunity for growth and learning. 


Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol
By Ruby Warrington

RESOLUTION: Be more mindful of your alcohol intake.
FRESH TAKE: Going without alcohol may sound like an extreme lifestyle change and, frankly, a really dull one. But Ruby Warrington is here to tell you, nonjudgmentally, that cutting out alcohol doesn’t mean you’ll become boring, and it can lead to a happier life, filled with better sleep, health and relationships. 
GOOD ADVICE: If you’re worried about all the fun you’ll miss out on while sober, remind yourself of the phenomenon known as “euphoric recall,” in which an experience is misremembered in a far more positive light than the reality. That epic bachelor party five years ago? It perhaps wasn’t as epic as you remember—but the hangover you’re forgetting no doubt was.


Craftfulness: Mend Yourself by Making Things
By Rosemary Davidson & Arzu Tahsin

RESULTION: Pick up a creative hobby.
FRESH TAKE: Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin have crafted (sorry) a well-researched guide to the meditative, restorative and mood-lifting effects of working with your hands on a craft or creative pursuit. Filled with advice on how to let go of the pressure of Pinterest perfection, how to make time for crafting in your busy schedule and even a couple of quick beginner projects to get you started, this book is as warm as the scarf you’ll be knitting.
GOOD ADVICE: For too long, we’ve all been focused on the finished product of our artistic pursuits, which can often lead us to abandon less than perfect-looking projects. But there’s joy to be found in the process of making and mending, regardless of our perceived abilities.


If You Ask Me: Essential Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt
Edited by Mary Jo Binker

RESOLUTION: Sail through life with presidential aplomb.
FRESH TAKE: In 1941, the outspoken first lady Eleanor Roosevelt started an advice column. For 20 years, she doled out clever, pithy advice on love, etiquette and issues like gender and race equality. These lovely columns, collected and annotated by Mary Jo Binker, provide sound advice as well as a look into the life and thinking of a legendary first lady.
GOOD ADVICE: Roosevelt was adamant about gender equality in her personal life, writing that she thinks “people are happier in marriage when neither is the boss” and that all relationships are best built on “unselfishness and flexibility.” 

 

This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

You've got goals, and we've got the books to help you achieve them. Tackle your resolutions with these 10 books.

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We’re living in a time of transformation—an era defined in no small part by women who are acting collectively to create a more equal world. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve selected eight nonfiction books that are essential reading for today’s take-action women and their allies. By focusing on historic victories that led to the present day, these terrific titles provide direction for the future. 


The year 2020 will mark the centennial of the 19th amendment, which prohibits the U.S. government from denying citizens the right to vote based on sex—a major achievement in women’s fight for suffrage, albeit one that primarily benefited white women. In anticipation of that date, an important new anthology, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, brings together a wealth of writings related to the social crusade that changed the nation. Edited by renowned author and women’s history expert Sally Roesch Wagner, the collection features a diverse sampling of historical material dating back to the 1830s. The variety of perspectives and backgrounds represented in the volume is extraordinary. Letters, speeches and articles by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams and Victoria Woodhull give readers a sense of the visionary minds that shaped the movement, while pieces focusing on Native American and African-American women illuminate the experiences of minorities in light of the campaign. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem provides the foreword to the book. Capturing the spirit and purpose of a pivotal period in American history, this stirring collection honors the forward-thinking women who fought hard to win the vote.

That fighting spirit is alive and well today, as actor Amber Tamblyn makes clear in her book Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution. Tamblyn, whose show-business career began when she was 12, hit a wall as she approached the age of 30. An aspiring writer and director, she found few opportunities in the male-dominated entertainment industry and decided to take charge of her life. She worked hard to bring her own creative projects to fruition and became an outspoken champion of women’s rights, joining forces with like-minded activists to establish the Time’s Up movement. In this candid, unapologetic book, Tamblyn—now 35—reflects on her awakening as a feminist and discusses vital topics like workplace discrimination and sexual assault. Throughout, she weaves in anecdotes about marriage and the birth of her daughter, her participation in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the challenges of being a woman in Hollywood. An “era of ignition,” she explains, is a time “when dissatisfaction becomes protest, when accusations become accountability, and when revolts become revolutions.” Briskly written, earnest and honest, her book is sure to galvanize a new generation of women.

In She the People: A Graphic History of Uprisings, Breakdowns, Setbacks, Revolts, and Enduring Hope on the Unfinished Road to Women’s Equality, writer Jen Deaderick and artist Rita Sapunor paint a vividly compelling portrait of the women’s movement using rousing quotes and clever cartoons and illustrations. Throughout, they spotlight wonder women such as suffragists Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone, African-American activist Mary McLeod Bethune and modern-day role models Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Organized into 12 sections, the book covers more than two centuries of history, and Sapunor’s dynamic, comics-inspired sketches help bring the past into focus. Rewinding to the American Revolution, when Abigail Adams famously counseled her husband, John Adams, to “remember the ladies” at the Continental Congress, and progressing through the decades, Deaderick covers the ups and downs of the fight for equality in a style that’s lively and conversational. Her advice for women: “We shouldn’t look for leaders to save us. We make change together. We’re stronger together.”

Those are words to live by, and social-justice advocate Feminista Jones shows that women are doing just that in Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets. An update from the front lines of the fight for equality, Jones’ book explores how black women are coming together to make their voices heard. She explains that because the digital world has provided fresh, effective platforms for the expression of ideas, black women are now more visible and vocal than ever before. “Go to almost any social media platform today and you will see a gathering of some of the most important feminist thinkers of modern generations,” Jones writes. In this impassioned volume, she examines how black women are harnessing the power of the internet and using hashtags to bring awareness to issues such as self-worth, motherhood and sex. She also considers the roots of black feminism and takes a deep dive into the concept of black female identity. Featuring insights into her own story and conversations with other influencers, Jones’ book is a powerful call to action.

The ongoing need to move women out of the margins and into the mainstream lies at the heart of Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. In tackling the topic of big data, Perez makes some startling discoveries. The numbers that impact everything from healthcare systems to workplace conditions and public transportation—figures that affect the day-to-day workings of society in countries around the world—are inherently biased, because they use men as a standard reference. Since women are left out of the equation, Perez says, data is discriminatory. “Most of recorded human history is one big data gap,” she writes, because “the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall.” An activist, feminist and academic, Perez conducted scores of studies in Europe and the United States and presents an engaging account of her findings. By looking at the way women live today—as breadwinners and consumers, wives and mothers—she brings immediacy to what could have been a dry collection of figures. An invaluable study of a critical subject, Invisible Women powerfully demonstrates the dangers of biased data.

Female visibility is also emphasized in Women: Our Story, a comprehensive, impressively organized survey of the triumphs, achievements and differing ways of life for women across the globe. Organized by era, the book opens in prehistoric times and moves forward through the centuries. It’s an ambitious, far-reaching volume that takes stock of how women have shaped every aspect of society, from politics and religion to education and the arts. Along with standout graphics, the book is packed with photos, illustrations, vintage ads and other historical memorabilia. Featuring text by scholarly experts, it tells an epic story through brief sidebars and timelines, as well as substantive sections on the rise of feminism, women in the workforce, the lives of notable figures (Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou, Simone de Beauvoir—the list goes on) and what the future may hold for tomorrow’s reformers. As journalist Rebecca Boggs Roberts writes in the book’s foreword, “When we neglect women’s stories, we aren’t only depriving women and girls (and boys) of role models and empowering lessons; we are getting history wrong.” This spectacular retrospective gets it right.

The importance of looking back in order to move forward is underscored in Pamela S. Nadell’s America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today. Spanning more than three centuries, it’s a compelling and well-researched chronicle of the women who worked behind the scenes and in the public eye to establish a place for Jewish women in this country. Nadell—a noted women’s history scholar—is the daughter of Jewish immigrants, and she imbues the book with urgency and personal insight. From the nation’s earliest Jewish women, who set up homes in Philadelphia, Charleston and New York in the 1700s, to groundbreakers like Emma Lazarus and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nadell looks at the shifting roles of Jewish women and their influence on American culture. As her research reveals, the meaning and significance of being Jewish has differed among women over the years, as some set their religious practice aside to pursue careers, while others maintained strict, orthodox households. Differences abound, Nadell writes, yet “one thing binds America’s Jewish women together: all have a share in the history of their collective American Jewish female past.” The contributions of these remarkable women shine in Nadell’s impressive book. 

The centuries are rich with inspiring examples of female empowerment, including many a madam president. All Hail the Queen: Twenty Women Who Ruled showcases these lady leaders—notable stateswomen whose accomplishments were often eclipsed by those of men. Writer Shweta Jha contributed the text for this intriguing book, which tracks the careers of Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette, as well as those of less familiar figures, like Japanese ruler Himiko and Maya queen Lady Six Sky. Some were born monarchs; others achieved eminence through marriage. Nearly all of them—as is only fitting for a queen—led operatic existences filled with incident and spectacle. Jennifer Orkin Lewis’ lush, colorful artwork gives readers a sense of the time and place that produced each leader—and of what the lady herself might have looked like. “Had they followed the cultural norms of their times, they ought to have been quiet and unassertive,” Lewis writes of the female leaders. “Each and every one of them overcame those expectations and made her mark on the culture and people she ruled.” Perfectly suited to its subject matter, this regal volume has golden endpapers and a cover that sparkles. Here’s to the royal treatment—and here’s to women who make history.

Eight new books that celebrate female leaders and achievers.

When our relationships falter under the pressure of political or religious demands, when ambiguity more than certainty guides our lives, we may be tempted to succumb to our malaise. However, there is another option: We can stumble through the shadows, searching for some thread of meaning that will guide us out of the darkness. The authors of these books have chosen the latter path, peeling away the detritus of life to discover meaning—personal and political—and plumbing the spiritual depths that accompany their searches.


★ Thin Places

With humor and razor-sharp insight, Jordan Kisner’s Thin Places: Essays From in Between captures the visceral, palpable feeling of loss. The ways we inhabit space occupy many of these evocative essays, such as in a piece on an art installation at New York City’s spacious Park Avenue Armory, in which Kisner encourages readers to find someplace “big and empty” when they are “stuck somewhere small . . . somewhere unhappy or afraid or paralyzed or heartbroken.” In her celebrated essay “Thin Places,” she discovers the age-old concept of the space between the spiritual and physical world. This “thin place” is porous, a space where distinctions between “you and not-you, real and unreal, worldly and otherworldly, fall away.” It’s in these thin places that we can find ourselves, absorb glimpses of new meaning from another world and live in the moment. Kisner weaves together reflections on Kierkegaard, her early Christian conversion (and later “unconversion”) and waiting for the subway to gracefully guide us through our own emptiness in search of fullness.

The Great Blue Hills of God

Kreis Beall’s The Great Blue Hills of God explores in lyrical prose what happens when her life falls apart. Beall, who helped create Blackberry Farm, one of the South’s most heavenly resorts, appears to have it all: a loving marriage, great wealth, a beautiful family and a satisfying career. But the demands of building up several properties slowly erode her marriage, and she finds that her and her husband’s financial bank is full but their “emotional bank” is being emptied. As her marriage fades away, Beall falls, and suddenly her health is compromised, and she temporarily loses her hearing. She experiences further devastation when her son, Sam, dies in a skiing accident. Despite the loss of her family, health and wealth, she discovers glimpses of grace in her reading of the Bible, discussions with her pastor and friends and meditations on the nature of home. Throughout the book, Beall sprinkles in fruitful bits of wisdom, embracing the conclusion that, “to me, home is God, family, friends, and legacy. . . . A home is a heart. It is love, people, relationships, and the life you live in it.”

Scandalous Witness

Lee C. Camp’s Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians offers a brilliant summary and exposition of the ways that Christianity is a politic, not a religion. Camp (Mere Discipleship) asks a series of questions that frames Christianity as not just a private spiritual practice but a guide for our life together: “How do we live together? Where is human history headed? What does it mean to be human? And what does it look like to live in a rightly ordered human community that engenders flourishing, justice, and the peace of God?” In the end, the Christian community embraces its mission when it “sets captives free, demolishes strongholds, and . . . [sows] the seeds of the peaceable reign of God.” Camp’s manifesto is a must-read in a world in which Christianity has become either a bedfellow of political parties or an isolated, private practice.

I Am Not Your Enemy

Michael T. McRay’s I Am Not Your Enemy takes Camp’s idea to the personal level. We create meaning in the stories we tell each other, and if we tell a good enough story, we can convince others that certain individuals are our enemies. But just as stories have the power to cultivate hate, they also have the power to reconcile and redeem. Throughout his travels across Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland and South Africa, and through his work as a conflict and resolution counselor, McRay hears violence-filled narratives with shattered endings. Yet, as he illustrates, not every story needs to end this way. McRay shares stories of a mother who refuses to seek vengeance for her son’s death, a community theater director who helps people who are marginalized find their voices and discover beauty in their lives and a woman who forgives the man who murdered her father. With the verve of a great storyteller, McRay regales us with spellbinding narratives that illustrate the power of words to change our lives and bring meaning to the world.

When our relationships falter under the pressure of political or religious demands, when ambiguity more than certainty guides our lives, we may be tempted to succumb to our malaise. However, there is another option: We can stumble through the shadows, searching for some thread of meaning that will guide us out of the darkness. The […]
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Drawing on public records and their own on-the-scene observations, Ivins and Dubose contend that George W. Bush’s most remarkable achievement as governor of Texas has been his own political advancement. The two political reporters Ivins for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dubose for the Texas Observer pay scant attention to Bush’s alleged drug use and other youthful excesses. Instead, their focus is on his business dealings and political machinations.

A point they make early in the book is that the Texas constitution so limits the powers of the governor that Bush could not possibly have worked all the wonders he boasts of in his speeches. By their reckoning, the governor is only the fifth most powerful pol in the state’s hierarchy. To the extent that Bush might have used the prominence of his office to sponsor or befriend legislation for the benefit of most Texans, they charge he has failed to do so.

As a young businessman, Bush had greater success finding investors among his father’s rich and powerful friends, the authors assert, than he did in making his various enterprises profitable for them. They add, however, that he usually did extremely well for himself in these ventures, whether it was exploring an oil field or exploiting the Texas Rangers.

But it is their appraisal of Bush’s performance as governor that is most devastating. Ivins and Dubose ridicule Bush’s mantra of compassionate conservatism. His conservatism is evident, they concede, but they see no signs of compassion. He has, they point out, been a pitiless champion of the death penalty, a relentless foe of judicial fairness, an enemy of environmental reform, and generally a scourge of the poor and helpless. They do give Bush fairly high marks for trying to improve education, although they say his efforts in this area have been more impulsive than deliberate.

One of the best features of the book is also its worst and that is Ivins’s wicked humor and incessant folksiness. (We’ll let Dubose off the hook here.) It is hard to absorb and appreciate the full evil of bad politics when you’re encouraged to laugh at the politicians. In depicting these people as buffoons (which they surely are at the lowest level), Ivins permits us to view them as mere eccentrics. And that tends to defuse our rightful anger.

Edward Morris is a Nashville-based entertainment and political writer.

Drawing on public records and their own on-the-scene observations, Ivins and Dubose contend that George W. Bush’s most remarkable achievement as governor of Texas has been his own political advancement. The two political reporters Ivins for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dubose for the Texas Observer pay scant attention to Bush’s alleged drug use and other […]
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George W. versus Al on the bookshelf You can always tell it’s a presidential election year when bookshelves are filled with books by and about individuals who just happen to be running for higher office. As the campaign enters its final frantic weeks, follow the paper trail to your favorite candidate.

The Prince of Tennessee: The Rise of Al Gore by David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima is a straightforward biography that rises above the baser peculiarities of presidential politics. The balanced portrait it paints of Gore is flecked with colorful anecdotes and revealing insights into his character.

In a book published several months before anyone knew he would be chosen by Gore to be his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman offers a defense of his chosen profession in the autobiographical In Praise of Public Life, co-written with author Michael D’Orso. The most striking things about this book are the honesty with which Lieberman writes about his first marriage, which ended in divorce, and the obvious passion he feels for the political process, however imperfect it may appear to the outside observer.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has been the subject of several biographies over the past 12 months. One of the most balanced is First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty. Written by Texas newsman Bill Minutaglio, it offers an in-depth look at the Texas political process that nurtured and challenged the candidate along his rapid journey into national prominence.

Not to be outdone is Bush’s vice presidential running mate, Richard Cheney, whose previously published book, Kings of the Hill: How Nine Powerful Men Changed the Course of American History has been reissued in paperback. Co-written with his wife, Lynne Cheney, the book is less a glimpse into Cheney’s personal politics than it is an examination of nine personalities who had a major impact on American history.

Another good choice for election night reading is editor James M. McPherson’s To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents, a brilliant collection of fascinating photographs and essays written by the Society of American Historians about the 41 men who have held the nation’s highest office.

George W. versus Al on the bookshelf You can always tell it’s a presidential election year when bookshelves are filled with books by and about individuals who just happen to be running for higher office. As the campaign enters its final frantic weeks, follow the paper trail to your favorite candidate. The Prince of Tennessee: […]
Review by

George W. versus Al on the bookshelf You can always tell it’s a presidential election year when bookshelves are filled with books by and about individuals who just happen to be running for higher office. As the campaign enters its final frantic weeks, follow the paper trail to your favorite candidate.

The Prince of Tennessee: The Rise of Al Gore by David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima is a straightforward biography that rises above the baser peculiarities of presidential politics. The balanced portrait it paints of Gore is flecked with colorful anecdotes and revealing insights into his character.

In a book published several months before anyone knew he would be chosen by Gore to be his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman offers a defense of his chosen profession in the autobiographical In Praise of Public Life, co-written with author Michael D’Orso. The most striking things about this book are the honesty with which Lieberman writes about his first marriage, which ended in divorce, and the obvious passion he feels for the political process, however imperfect it may appear to the outside observer.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has been the subject of several biographies over the past 12 months. One of the most balanced is First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty. Written by Texas newsman Bill Minutaglio, it offers an in-depth look at the Texas political process that nurtured and challenged the candidate along his rapid journey into national prominence.

Not to be outdone is Bush’s vice presidential running mate, Richard Cheney, whose previously published book, Kings of the Hill: How Nine Powerful Men Changed the Course of American History has been reissued in paperback. Co-written with his wife, Lynne Cheney, the book is less a glimpse into Cheney’s personal politics than it is an examination of nine personalities who had a major impact on American history.

Another good choice for election night reading is editor James M. McPherson’s To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents, a brilliant collection of fascinating photographs and essays written by the Society of American Historians about the 41 men who have held the nation’s highest office.

George W. versus Al on the bookshelf You can always tell it’s a presidential election year when bookshelves are filled with books by and about individuals who just happen to be running for higher office. As the campaign enters its final frantic weeks, follow the paper trail to your favorite candidate. The Prince of Tennessee: […]

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