Recommended Holiday Reading for the Agitated Mind
1. The Invisible Soldiers by Ann Hagedorn (Simon & Schuster, 2014).
Ann Hagedorn, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal tells the troubling story of the corporatization of America’s national security—a “bold, new industry of private military and security companies,” embedded deeply in and sometimes outnumbering our armed forces and always pressing for more influence, power, and markets.
2. Why Not Jail, Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, by law professor Rena Steinzor (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Professor Steinzor zeroes in on the highest level of corporate crime, culpable executives, and argues that criminal prosecution of these corporate bosses is not only more just but is the most effective deterrence of corporate crime that has been repeated time and again with impunity.
3. The GMO Deception, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014).
This is a project of the Council for Responsible Genetics, started by MIT, Harvard and other scientists. This book, for which I wrote the foreword, takes a comprehensive look at the social, political and ethical implications of genetically modified food from secrecy-ridden companies like Monsanto to farms and markets worldwide. It shows the power of distorted, non-peer-reviewed corporate science and its political marketers.
4. The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit by Stephen L. Goldstein (Grid Press, 2014).
This book delivers on its title to make you angry and laugh at the same time. Coming off the November elections, you may resonate with the author’s definition that “political bull derives from the universal ‘language’ of hyperbole, duplicity, and braggadocio.”
5. Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference edited by Sarah Van Gelder and the staff of Yes! Magazine (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014).
This is not a touchy-feely psycho screed. It has political, civic, environmental, consumer and personal viewpoints from leading thinkers and doers such as Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Annie Leonard, and John McKnight. A fast and engrossing read.
6. A Big Fat Crisis by Deborah A. Cohen, M.D. (Nation Books, 2014).
This work goes beyond exhortation and clarifies the hidden forces behind the obesity epidemic and offers concrete ways to diminish this burgeoning human condition. Dr. Cohen offers concrete things to do that include major policy changes and ground-up initiatives for you or activist groups. Definitely not a diet book.
7. Rich People’s Movements by Isaac William Martin (Oxford, 2014).
This is a counter-intuitive up-to-date history of mass protest movements “explicitly designed to benefit the wealthy!” Professor Martin reveals how “protests on behalf of the rich appropriated the tactics used by the left—from the Populists and Progressives of the early 20th century to the feminists and anti-war activists of the 1950s and 1960s.”
8. The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist by Christine Bader (Bibliomotion, 2014).
This is the story of a Yale graduate who went to work inside big business and became one of the few idealists striving to elevate standards and conduct. A rare, short narrative that illuminates why some idealists become great, courageous whistleblowers.
9. Leningrad: Siege and Symphony by Brian Moynahan (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014).
Leningrad, the Soviet Union’s second largest city, took 750,000 fatalities from Hitler’s war, siege and starvation—almost double the toll by the U.S. in World War II. This massive work tells the heroic story in 1941 and 1942 of the gripping determination to perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in the besieged, devastated city on August 9, 1942. If there ever was a movie looking for a book, this tribute to the irrepressible human spirit is it.
10. Ha!—The Science of When We Laugh and Why by Scott Weems (Basic Books, 2014).
Can a cognitive neuroscientist explain laughter and enlighten and entertain? You better believe the answer is yes. A delightful, brainy, historical and contemporary cultural excursus that “reveals why humor is so idiosyncratic, and why how-to books alone will never help us become funnier people.” It explained to me why all those joke books I used to read weren’t really all that funny! More rewarding than a thousand giggles.
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Finally, if you want to see what one person—a young lawyer, Morris Dees—started and persisted with scores of dedicated fighters for justice, obtain the beautifully designed, illustrated history of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s cases and causes, Keeping the Dream Alive by Booth Gunter (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2014, Montgomery, Alabama).