June 8, 2016

Summertime, and the Reading Is Meaty

One of the traditional joys of summer is the extra, welcome free time it opens up for the pleasures of reading. And for many of us, a good book in the shade isn't necessarily a mystery or romance. With that in mind, we asked colleagues at The New School for summer book ideas for readers of Urban Matters. Here are their suggestions. 

Michelle DePass, dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy, recommends The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward E. Baptist. It’s an eloquent and corrective history describing the central role the brutal slave trade and the cotton economy played in the development of the United States, North and South.

Ana Baptista, associate director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center and interim chair of environmental policy and sustainability management at Milano says:

“I’m reading a great little book right now by Samantha Macbride called Recycling Reconsidered: The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States. It brings to light the underbelly of a widely lauded environmental activity - recycling. The author peels back the covers and reveals the social and human impact of the recycling industry when it fails to deliver on its public-facing promises of sustainability. 

“The environmental historian William Cronon writes elegantly and poignantly about the relationship between humans and nature – the source of so much of our angst and alienation in the era of climate change. He’s the editor of Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, which includes his thoughtful introductory essay, ‘The Trouble with Wilderness: Or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.’ (It was also published separately in 1996 in the journal Environmental History.)”

Darrick Hamilton, associate professor of economics and urban policy, director of the Milano doctoral program (and occasional Urban Matters contributor describing his research on racial wealth disparities in the US), has this to say about historian Ira Katznelson’s highly praised When Affirmative Action Was White:

“In his aptly titled book, Katznelson documents the great political compromise that led to the wide-scale, intentional exclusion of blacks from New Deal and World War II public policies, which are largely responsible for the asset development of a white American middle class. The great political compromise to coerce white Southern Democratic legislators to vote for transformative New Deal policies while maintaining a system of Jim Crow apartheid and white privilege was built on the exclusion of overwhelmingly black-dominated agriculture and domestic occupations, the administration of benefits placed in the hands of local authority with hostility to blacks, and the Congressional prevention of antidiscrimination clauses in the administration of benefits. This, coupled with the use of restrictive covenants, redlining, and general housing and lending discrimination, paints a clear picture of disparate discriminatory structural factors that inhibit blacks from accumulating wealth.” 

Sean Jacobs, assistant professor of international affairs at Milano, urges reading (or re-reading) Martinique-born psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon’s searching analysis of the destructive social and psychological consequences of colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth, first published in 1961. Says Jacobs:

“Written by one of the 20th century's most important intellectuals, the book—a critique of colonialism, nationalism, and imperialism—has regained relevance again.”

Mark Lipton, professor of management at Milano, says, “I think Leadership BS, by Jeff Pfeffer is consistent with what and how we teach at Milano: Non-dogmatic, critical thinking. Adam Grant’s Give and Take is also insightful and consistent with our ethos. There are some surprises in there, and I found it a good read.” 

Michael Park, visiting associate professor of professional practice and chair of the management programs at Milano, says, “I'm reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. In the ongoing debates about whether it's possible to focus education on developing character, this is both practical and scholarly.  Duckworth believes that that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’ As I'm reading it, I’m keeping in mind my 11-year-old grandson, who shocked me a couple of years ago by declaring that he was not one of those kids who ‘loves school.’ I’m thinking about how to encourage him to keep at it.”

Lisa Servon, professor of urban policy at Milano, endorses a bracing summer trio: Evicted by Matthew Desmond, a powerful firsthand account of what it means to look for, and lose, homes in America’s poorest neighborhoods; Finding Time by Heather Boushey, which analyzes the work-life conflict consuming American family life, and what do about it; and Slow Professor by Maggie Berg & Barbara Seeber, which takes on the challenges of preserving humanistic educational values in today’s fast-paced colleges and universities. 

Jeff Smith, assistant professor of policy and advocacy at Milano, suggests Off Script by Josh King. It’s an insider’s look at the staging of Presidential events and campaign spectacles that poses some timely and troubling questions about the interactions between political figures and the news media in what King calls “the Age of Optics.”