Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf Feb. 2019

Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf

On page 262 of Capital in the 21st Century there are two of the most important sentences I’ve ever read: “…it is essential to be aware of these things: the historical reduction of inequalities of wealth is less substantial than many people believe. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the limited compression of inequality that we have seen is irreversible.” Does this scare you? It should.

Here are three more books that I loved to pieces and highly recommend:

Black Elk Speaks, “as told through John G. Neihardt“.  If you missed this in college you must find the time to read it now.  And indulge yourself in the Introduction.  Mr. Neihardt describes his first meeting with Black Elk, who was waiting for him, even though no contact had occurred between them.  And the Epilogue, which describes their meeting for the last time.  I cried.  Black Elk tells US history from  how he and his people lived it, in his own words, transcribed by Neihardt’s daughter.  You will get a clear, first-hand account of our country’s perfidy against the indigenous people.  And what life was like before the Europeans’ descendants took over.  

Another great book, with flawless writing, is Sonia Sotomayor’s book, My Beloved World.  It’s the story of her life, starting from her early childhood and watching Perry Mason, which became the inspiration to become a judge.  Yes, Mason got the attention, but the judge had the power!  It’s an inspiring, beautiful story, and highlights her as one of our bright lights on the Supreme Court.  It’s a delightful book about an amazing person, and well-worth the time in reading it.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so difficult to admit a mistake, Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz, explains the psychology behind it.  There are a lot of people who act and think mistakenly.  Yelling at them, or giving them facts, isn’t so helpful.  Understanding how the mind works might be.  She gives examples of people faced with new facts and all the different ways they react.  This knowledge is imperative as we waltz into the 2020 election.  Hopefully we will be helped and fortified by inspirational people and books, and their accumulated  knowledge and wisdom.

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February’19 Books

What Does It Mean to be White?,  by Robin DiAngelo
Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers; Revised edition (June 15, 2016)
This is an outstanding (and readable) analysis of whiteness, from incisive and wide-ranging critiques of how white folks deflect, deny, and evade the topic of racism, and the implications of our racial identity and position The author worked with a person-of-color partner for the Dept. of Social and Health Services providing training for public and corporate workers.  Her book outlines what she learned and what she and her partner taught.  It’s a powerful lesson in “consciousness raising” and understanding of our role in institutional racism. More

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, a 500-year History, by Kurt Andersen
Random House; 1st Edition edition (September 5, 2017)
It’s a NY Times Bestseller.  Over 450 pages the author details why this “fake news” moment we are living through is not something entirely new.  We were founded by dreamers and have a history of “true believers,” “magical thinkers,” “hucksters” and “suckers.  He said that believe-whatever-you-want fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA, from the Salem witch trials to P.T. Barnum, to Hollywood, our fetish for guns, belief in extraterrestrials and “end times,” and more.  He explains how the lines between reality and illusion have become dangerously blurred.  Fascinating (and informative) reading. More

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Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf Jan’19


Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf

So, the first book is Lost Connections, by Johann Hari.

I heard him on TED radio, and he has a TED talk, worth listening to if only for his adorable British accent. As you read the book you’ll hear his voice in your head, and it will become that much more enjoyable.
He talks about what we used to think and what we now know about depression and anxiety. What peaked my interest at first was the fact that we had both been on Paxil for thirteen years, and then went off. It’s a powerful drug, but doesn’t solve any problems. The problems, he posits, are caused by how our society is organized–the perceived positives of having “things”, the lack of community, the lack of purpose, or a meaningful job. So the book starts off as a sort of self-help book and ends up being thoroughly political.  
Tiny side note here: When the Mariinsky orchestra played with us, the San Diego Symphony, I found someone fluent in English and asked him to translate so I could chat with another of his colleagues.  
“What will life be like when we become a colony of Russia’s?”
“You won’t have things.”

This book is a fun romp through the deceits of the pharmaceutical industry, many countries visited and experts interviewed, and one man’s purposeful and sometimes accidental adventures. Highly recommended.  

Another: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.

A friend of mine is from Persia, or, Iran. She gave me a book and told me, “This was my life.” The book is Persepolis, and her pronunciation is accented first syllable, and no second syllable. A movie was made from this graphic novel, but the book continues into Marjane’s young adulthood in Paris. Once you get to know her life and her family, her changing situations, her adventures and thoughts, you no longer think that war against Iran is a good idea. There are lovely people who live there! Just like you and me.  With the same desires and emotions, the same kinds of bodies, the same wish for a better life and more compassionate country. My friend’s father-in-law is 106, still voting, still going to work. People sit in traffic, go shopping, visit with friends. This book is a peek into a beautiful woman’s life as a little girl, the politics and how it affected her and her family, the brave souls who went to prison or were murdered. The author did the drawings, and they are honest, and wonderful. This book is not to be missed.

Speaking of war: Chris Hedges is one of my favorite authors. Beautiful writing, but, boy, what a downer: War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges

He describes his experience covering the war in Croatia, looking under the blankets covering the dead, the politics, life before, during and after, and our  involvement.  It gives you an understanding of the attraction and benefits of war as loved ones are dying all around you: War creates a cohesiveness, a tight-knit group of like-minded people, helping each other–against the enemy. Who is the enemy? It doesn’t seem to matter. Anyone who isn’t “us”. And the “us” forgets the internecine differences for a moment because we have better and more important things to do. This book is a powerful warning to all of us to examine our motivations before pulling the trigger.  

These three books together make the idea of invading and punishing other countries extremely horrific, if not anathema.

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December’18 Books

The Long Honduran Night
Resistance , Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup by Dana Frank

A story of resistance, repression, and US policy in Honduras in the aftermath of a violent military coup.
This powerful narrative recounts the dramatic years in Honduras following the June 2009 military coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya, told in part through first-person experiences, layered into deeper political analysis. It weaves together two broad pictures: first, the repressive regime that was launched with the coup, and the ways in which U.S. policy has continued to support that regime; and second, the brave and evolving Honduran resistance movement, with aid from a new solidarity movement in the United States.
Although it is full of terrible things, this is not a horror story: the book directly counters mainstream media coverage that portrays Honduras as a pit of unrelenting awfulness, in which powerless people sob in the face of unexplained violence. Rather, it’s about sobering challenges with roots in political processes, and the inspiring collective strength with which people face them.

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Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf November’18


Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf

The most important book I’ve read so far is:
War Is A Racket, by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler
Yes, his first name is  a bit unfortunate, but he is, as far as I know, the most decorated war hero in our history. 
He started out in the Marines, believing that he was fighting for freedom and democracy. Towards the end of  his 33  years in the military he came to understand that he was fighting for the wealthy capitalists. It’s an eye-opener, and makes you want to make illegal all wars fought on other people’s lands.
Make sure to read the introduction. There you will find some obscure but important military history, and the plot to assassinate the President and take over the country–by the multinational corporations. It’s fascinating and shocking, and, yes, we should have our eyes uncovered.

There are two other books, not directly political but essential reading. First, an introduction: One of my neighbors died and I offered to play for his memorial gathering at his widow’s home. Before playing I mentioned that I would rather play for people while they are alive, as they would enjoy it more. After playing, his granddaughter asked if I would play for her wedding. After we discussed repertoire she asked what my fee was. “A book that changed your life.”

Bonus! There were two books, and I want to share them with you:

Solar Storms, by Linda Hogan, Hogan herself is a Chickasaw Indian, but she writes a hero’s journey of four Cree Indian women. I have never witnessed nature described so lovingly and beautifully, as if it were another character in their adventures. And the story weaves in their characters with the abuse the Native Americans and their beloved land received by both the US and Canadian governments.

At Home On the Street, by Wasserman and Claire, two sociology professors who camp out with the homeless in Birmingham, Alabama, over the space of one or two years. I’m still reading this book, as the language is pretty academic. (I was a music major in college). But it destroys your preconceived ideas of why people are homeless. When they were first talking of “social structure”, and “economic structure” I had no idea what they were talking about. Reading further I figured it out. Capitalism creates the top, and, necessarily, there is a bottom. I’d skipped to the end and got weepy when the profs were saying their goodbyes and their homeless peeps gave them gifts from their stash of nothing. In this book they cover every conceivable aspect of homelessness, with plenty of footnotes and references after each chapter.  

Happy Reading!

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October’18 Books


America: The Farewell Tour – by Chris Hedges, Simon & Schuster (August 21, 2018)
Chris Hedges’s profound and provocative examination of America in crisis is “an exceedingly…provocative book, certain to arouse controversy, but offering a point of view that needs to be heard” (Booklist), about how bitter hopelessness and malaise have resulted in a culture of sadism and hate. More


Curing Exceptionalism: What’s Wrong with How We Think about the United States? What Can We Do about It? – by David Swanson, David Swanson
(March 26, 2018)
U.S. exceptionalism, the idea that the United States of America is superior to other nations, is no more fact-based and no less harmful than racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.
The purpose of this book is to persuade you of that statement.
This book examines how the United States actually compares with other countries, how people think about the comparison, what damage that thinking does, and what changes we might want to consider making. More

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Sept’18 Books

climate leviathan

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future – by Joel Wainwright & Geoff Mann, Verso, (February 13, 2018)

How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse

Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading?

To further the struggle for climate justice, we need to have some idea how the existing global order is likely to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. Climate Leviathan provides a radical way of thinking about the intensifying challenges to the global order. Drawing on a wide range of political thought, Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann argue that rapid climate change will transform the world’s political economy and the fundamental political arrangements most people take for granted. The result will be a capitalist planetary sovereignty, a terrifying eventuality that makes the construction of viable, radical alternatives truly imperative.

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Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf August’18

Marcia Bookstein’s Bookshelf

Here are three highly recommended books.

1. The first is “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. Beautifully written, it gives you the history of what’s not written in the history books from high school. From the murderous rampages and trickery of Christopher Columbus’ people to the trajectory-changing election of 2000, Zinn takes us on a fascinating journey through our history. Not pretty, but you just can’t look away. In order to change the present in the future, you need to know where you come from. This book will tell you everything you need to know and more. A long but engrossing read.

2. At present I’m just finishing “Reporter,” by Seymour Hersh. I love this book. What a brave and energetic person. He follows a lead and will not let go until he finds his man or woman. (For the My Lai story it’s men he’s after.) When he finds him he’ll knock on the door at two a.m. and someone will answer and want to talk to him! I wouldn’t answer the door at two a.m. The reason they want to talk is because he’s done his research beforehand and knows enough to make the other person want to spill as many beans as possible. What’s fascinating is the reaction of the executive editor at The New York Times. How reluctant he was to put some of this stuff in print. Often Hersh would have to get another entity to publish first. It’s incredible the lengths Hersh would go through to get to the truth, and amazing how, if it wasn’t what was thought to be the truth in the general public, the reluctance to print would be nearly insurmountable. Makes me look at that “newspaper of note” with different eyes. This is a super story and not to be missed. One thing: he sounds like a reporter! This might be a turn-off for some. But this book is a must-read.

3. I’ve read 119 pages of Thomas Piketty’s book, “Capital in the 21st Century.” I started to read this book to help with my insomnia. Economics! What could be more boring, using up lots of brain glucose and putting me into a delicious slumber? Wrong. It’s fascinating, and kept me up way past my bedtime. Difficult for me, for sure. (At UCLA I took Econ 101. After one class and not understanding a single word except for “the” and “and” I gave up. Flash forward a bit more than thirty years and I’m thinking, “I’m not giving up on myself!” I started with The Worldly Philosophers.) OK, full disclosure: I’m still not sure what alpha equals r times beta means. Did I get that correct? Piketty looks at every aspect of wealth and income, private and public, mostly comparing the US, France and Britain, and this is why his book is over 500 pages long and I’ll be reading it into 2020. But what an important book! Now I know how wealth inequality happens (it’s math!) and how potentially devastating it is for a society. He adds in wealth in literature, and the picture is complete. If you can understand it. Apparently this is in the top ten of the most bought, started, and never finished books. But it is super-important to try to understand what we’ll be fighting against for a very long time. And the fight against the super-wealthy is essential. I will tell you why next time in a fabulous and short book by the most decorated war hero this country has ever seen.

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Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age
By Dan Zak, Blue Rider Press, (July 12, 2016)

ON A TRANQUIL SUMMER NIGHT in July 2012, a trio of peace activists infiltrated the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Nicknamed the “Fort Knox of Uranium,” Y-12 was supposedly one of the most secure sites in the world, a bastion of warhead parts and hundreds of tons of highly enriched uranium—enough to power thousands of nuclear bombs. The three activists—a house painter, a Vietnam War veteran, and an 82-year-old Catholic nun—penetrated the complex’s exterior with alarming ease; their strongest tools were two pairs of bolt cutters and three hammers. Once inside, these pacifists hung protest banners, spray-painted biblical messages, and streaked the walls with human blood. Then they waited to be arrested. More

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June’18 Books

This Summer’s Book Recommendations

Breakpoint, Reckoning with America’s Environmental Crisis – by Jeremy B. C. Jackson and Steve Chapple, Yale University Press (April 17, 2018)

An insightful look at the American environmental crisis and emerging solutions from the heartland to the coasts in the era of global climate change

Eminent ecologist Jeremy B. C. Jackson and award-winning journalist Steve Chapple traveled the length of the Mississippi River interviewing farmers, fishermen, scientists, and policymakers to better understand the mounting environmental problems ravaging the United States. Along their journey, which quickly expands to California, Florida, and New York, the pair uncovered surprising and profound connections between ecological systems and environmental crises across the country. More


The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America – by Timothy Snyder, Tim Duggan Books (April 3, 2018)
With the end of the Cold War, the victory of liberal democracy was thought to be absolute. Observers declared the end of history, confident in a peaceful, globalized future. But we now know this to be premature. Authoritarianism first returned in Russia, as Putin developed a political system dedicated solely to the consolidation and exercise of power. In the last six years, it has creeped from east to west as nationalism inflames Europe, abetted by Russian propaganda and cyberwarfare. More


Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think – by Hans Rosling, Flatiron Books (April 3, 2018)
“Factfulness throws down a gauntlet to doom-and-gloomers in global health by challenging preconceptions and misconceptions [and] is a fabulous read, succinct and lively… This magnificent book ends with a plea for a factual world view. Rosling was optimistic that this outlook will spread, because it is a useful navigational tool in a complex world, and a genuine antidote to negativity and hopelessness. A just tribute to this book and the man would be a global day of celebration for facts about our world. Perhaps Trump should lead the charge on that.” ―Nature More

last days

Last Days in Ocean Beach – by Jim Miller, San Diego City Works Pr (April 4, 2018)
Last Days in Ocean Beach is the story of William, a scientist working at the Center for Extinction Studies, a think tank at the College of the Sun funded by a green billionaire. William lives “on the border between dread and wonder” as he desperately works to raise the alarm about climate change and its dire consequences to an apathetic public, learns to live with grief, and hold on to love. More

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