Archives for category: Non-fiction

The subtitle of this book – When Violence Strikes and Community Security is Threatened – is only part of the reason I read this. We have had violence in and around our school. But our students carry trauma of all sorts with them every day. I think we need to understand this better in order to teach more effectively. I know resources are a part of it, but I can do little to control the allocation of funds, personnel, etc.. But I can try to understand. This was a good introduction and contains several useful visuals.

Solnit combines current events and the work of writers like Woolf, Faludi and Freidan to position herself in what she calls the gender wars. She’s both pragmatic and passionate. And you know what? She’s absolutely right. Even though I think that she (like others) makes too much of the significance of social media traffic (that a certain hashtag is trending means something; it just doesn’t mean everything), her point that we are saying things we wouldn’t say 50 years ago and that we have words for things (rape culture, date rape) that we didn’t and couldn’t name 50 years ago is well-taken. Solnit’s precise and straightforward essays (several of them begin with wonderfully metaphorical passages), particularly “Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite,” made me see connections among colonialism, capitalism and our rape culture. I cannot recall, at this point, what I thought of Anita Hill’s testimony when I first heard it, but I am quite sure that I wish I’d read this first. Better yet, I wish I’d kept quiet.

I’ve known of this well-regarded book for a long while, but I don’t think I was ready to read it. A visit to the 9/11 Museum finally prompted me. It is a very, very good book. Wright’s research is incredible.  To watch bin Laden’s transformation from a human being I could recognize to a deluded fanatic was both astonishing and understandable.

I had long heard that one of the United States’ problems was a lack of cooperation among various agencies. Until I read this book, I was willing to give them some slack. This was unprecedented. Who knows how many threats they have to sift through on a daily basis, etc.? But that forgiveness is all gone now. We knew things. We had information. The failure to share information because of rivalries, wrongly interpreted laws, and individual personalities is recounted here, and without necessarily blaming anyone, Wright points out numerous times when opportunities to capture or kill certain people were missed. This is not to say that 9/11 would not have happened, only to say that opportunities – major ones – were missed for largely petty reasons.

So if you’re ready, this, I think, is the book to read.


I had some time to kill before a tour of the Tenement Museum, so I walked to the Museum at Eldridge Street. And I am glad I did. What a remarkable place! The history of the synagogue and the story of its renovation – which continues to this day – is incredible. It is just a beautiful vibrant place, and this book does a great of taking the reader through its restoration. The photographs are great, and the attention to detail is appreciated. If you are visiting the Lower East Side, be sure to stroll through Chinatown and check this place out. Kiki Smith’s window alone is worth the price of admission.


The subtitle of this book, An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, is somewhat misleading (to the detriment of the book, I think). The focus is not really on the families, but they are used to represent the kind of cuisine their culture brought to the United States. So the personal elements are largely superficial. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of interesting pieces of this book. I enjoyed how Ziegelman set the scenes of the Lower East Side in broad strokes. I also appreciated her myth-busting when it came to food / cultural stereotypes.

Still, the book lacks any kind of narrative drive and comes across as a bit too dry. It reads more like a sociological study in 5 chapters. Maybe it was her dissertation. It was good background reading in preparation for a visit to the Tenement Museum, but otherwise. . .

Green’s book, subtitled West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, covers the years from 1890-1933. I’ve started to become more interested in labor history and have a family connection to West Virginia. Like many others, according to the explanation Green offers as his reason for writing the book, I was not aware of the violent intensity between the miners and their families and the owners / operators of the mines. Green says repeatedly that there is no completely accurate account of how many people died, but everyone – the miners (some of whom were WWI veterans), the private guards the operators hired, the National Guard that had to be summoned, and even the US Army – all had guns. The organizers, the likes of Mother Jones, John Lewis and Frank Keeney, were amazingly persistent and resilient people, especially in an era when transportation and communication were far more difficult than they are today.

But the willingness of the ordinary and here often unnamed families to participate in strikes absolutely astounded me, especially in the later years when the country was experiencing a depression. At times, I wondered whether the rugged spirit that was formed in West Virginians during this time was a kind of precursor to Hillbilly Elegy, and perhaps another explanation of the result of our recent presidential election.

I was also quite taken with how diverse and integrated the union was from its very inception. Even when social forces interceded and resulted in things like segregated housing, the union was always open to all.

Green never really hides his pro-Union bias, and it never overwhelms his narrative. Despite this bias, he is critical of certain union decisions and tactics, particularly when corruption infected the organization.

Green makes the case that this is a story that needed to be told, and he told it well.

Although you wouldn’t think that the history of banking would be exciting, much less the stuff of a musical, Baradaran presents a compelling narrative about how and why we got to the place where we are so far from the democratization of credit that our founders envisioned (and pretty much enacting the fears they anticipated). It boils down to mission drift or, better yet, mission abandonment. Initially, banks were conceived as a public service institution, assigned to serve everyone. At some point in the 70s, the mission shifted to profit, and Baradaran demonstrates how this hybrid – a private profit making institution supported by the government is just not sustainable.

Various alternatives have emerged – the credit union, in its original form, seems to have had some success. But it, too, had its mission corrupted. Baradaran sees some possibilities in postal banking, but her endorsement is far from passionate.

And the question of what comes next (there’s that musical again) is essential. J.D. Vance of Hillbilly Elegy fame talks about how his family relied on payday loans. And The Atlantic  also wonders what would replace them.

What Will Come After Payday Lending?

a preview of the book on a podcast