Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

0A544274-291F-4462-980B-D964D85B5239This week on The Stacks podcast, Lauren Fanella and I discussed Reincarnation Blues as part of The Stacks Book Club. You can listen to our full conversation about the book, its themes, and who we think should star in the TV series of our minds, right here. There are spoilers on the episode (there are none in this review), so I suggest you read the book before you listen.

If you’re not familiar with Reincarnation Blues by Micahel Poore, check out a little bit about the book here

First we live. Then we die. And then . . . we get another try? 

Ten thousand tries, to be exact. Ten thousand lives to “get it right.” Answer all the Big Questions. Achieve Wisdom. And Become One with Everything.
    
Milo has had 9,995 chances so far and has just five more lives to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.

But Reincarnation Blues is more than a great love story: Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity. As darkly enchanting as the works of Neil Gaiman and as wisely hilarious as Kurt Vonnegut’s, Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is the story of everything that makes life profound, beautiful, absurd, and heartbreaking.

My feelings about this book changed wildly as I read it. When I first started I was all in. I was 50 pages in telling my sister-in-law this is a must read. Then at about page 150 I was wanted to quit (and only held out because I’d heard good things, and had committed to covering it on the podcast). Then I got to the last 100 pages and was back in again.

I loved Michael Poore as an author. He is smart, and unsentimental, and witty, and flip, and emotional, and wise, and direct, and all the things that make a book like this resonate. He is fluid in his writing and his ideas are strong. He is never passive. He has a clear point of view on the important things in life. He has a strong moral compass when it comes to social justice and compassion, and that is what drives Milo and the entirety of Reincarnation Blues. He guides us as the readers through the universe as he sees it. I loved Poore so much, I even read the acknowledgements and swooned a little.

Its worth noting here, that Poore has opinions on prison, and rape culture, and soulmates, and the criminal justice system, and punishment, and meditation, and global warming, and the role of wealthy people in the economy, and so much more. He uses different lives to explore this major issues. In the discussion of these topics I was head over heels for this book. I’d never read a fiction book that was so direct in discussing these things, without being a fiction book about these things.

Of course, I also had parts of this book I wasn’t so into. I couldn’t quiet get into the story. The book felt more like a grouping of short stories, than a novel. I could never quiet get in a groove. And with each life being a different place and world and lifetime and era, I would fall in love with something or someone and then it would be gone. There were, of course, references to things in past (or future) lives, which I loved, but for the most part, I had to learn to enjoy the good moments and then let them go. Which I guess is a metaphor for life, or another one of Poore’s strong opinions on the way things should be.

The book is a little sci-fi, a little magical realism, and little bit of an adventure story, and then also a love story, and then once again its a story of humanity and one’s duty to society, its a genre-bending social commentary. Its unlike anything I’ve read. In a good way. While, I only gave it three stars, because it didn’t fully click with me, I could see this being a favorite book for a lot of people. It has all the potential to be a beloved book. It just wasn’t quiet for me. It is kind of a funny book like that. It could never really be the type of book that achieved consensus. Also, I don’t think I understood the ending. This happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.

If this review excites you, you should read this book. If you’re at all interested in a book about many lives and many characters and the big picture ideas of life, you should read this book. I don’t know how you’ll feel about it. I hope you’ll like it, you might not. I think either way, its worth a read. I’m certainly glad I read it. I now know I love Michael Poore.

Don’t forget to listen to Lauren and I discuss Reincarnation Blues further on the podcast.

  • Hard Cover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; First Edition edition (August 22, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Reincarnation Blues on Amazon

 

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

EFD9FC14-C160-498F-8A7F-7B028658C6EDI live in Los Angeles, and this book about crime in South Los Angeles has been on my radar since it came out in 2015. I mean, it has all the things that I proclaim to like: true crime, race relations, specifically those dealing with Black folks; a journalistic style and approach, and a woman author. Plus, it talks about locations I’m familiar with and people that live 20 minutes (without traffic) away from me. This has just always felt like a must read for me.

If you aren’t familiar with Ghettoside, here is more about the book.

Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.

I found Ghettoside to be a very well manicured book. It is clear from the moment the book starts where it will end, and it is clear exactly what points author Jill Leovy will hit. It has no twists and turns, no suspense, no real excitement in the storytelling. That is not what Leovy is doing here. The point of this book is to show how routine and mundane murder has become in South Los Angeles. The point is that day in and day out Black men are being killed, and the LAPD detectives are the only people of authority who care (her point of view not mine).

Leovy embeds with the Southside detective unit and spends much of her time with one detective, John Skaggs. He is ostensibly the hero of this book. He is the guy we are told to be impressed by, he is the best one, he solves the cases, he is dedicated to justice. While I enjoyed hearing about the detectives, the parts of this book I enjoyed most were about the victims, their families, and even those people involved in perpetrating the crimes. Detectives are cool, but we have so many stories focused on them. I wish Leovy would have spent more time engaging with the stories of those who live in Watts, those who lost loved ones, those who stories are often erased in from their own narratives.

Something that got in the way of my enjoyment of Ghettoside, is that Leovy clearly grew to respect and admire the work of the detectives in the units she was with. I think that biased her to the work of other police officers. The book felt incredibly pro-detective, and mostly anti-patrol cop. I’m not doubting the detectives do good work, and that cops make mistakes, its more that it felt like the detectives were the heroes only being foiled by lousy police work and out of control gang members. I found it hard to trust her praise or condemnations fully.

I am glad I finally read this book. I enjoyed the well researched subject matter, and the amount of effort Leovy put in to talk to so many different people involved in South Los Angeles murders. I also appreciated her willingness to discuss the anti-Black racism that has led to a world in which the murder of Black men goes mostly unseen, unreported, and unsolved. She really gave these murders the context that is so often overlooked in place of a “personal responsibility” narrative.

If you’re interested in the detective process and how crimes are solved, this would be a good book for you. I also would suggest this book to anyone living in a city with high rates of murder perpetrated against Black men, or anyone who thinks this topic sounds interesting.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (October 27, 2015)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Ghettoside on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

IMG_5774We read The Power of Habit for the Stacks Book Club, and you can listen to author Ross Asdourian and I talk about it right here.

If you’re not familiar with this book, here is a little background.

In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

This is one of those books that makes you look at your life in a whole new way. I couldn’t help but think, how can I change my habits to become a better me. Thats not to say this book is really a “self-help” book, but more of a look at human behavior. It excites you into action (or maybe just the thought of action).

Duhigg uses examples from scientific experiments and everyday lives to illustrate his points. There is a variety of case studies and antidotal stories to keep the book engaging and diverse. The examples are broken down and used to drive his points home. I found some of the examples to be really effective, and some others to lack staying power.

One of the places I found the book to be particularly strong was Duhigg’s examination of social and political movements. How members of society can use habits to effect change. He talks about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery bus boycotts as examples of the power of habit in community. He highlights how the use of strategic and aggressive habits can sway people into action. These ideas made me think of the work that the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and the activism we’re seeing from the Parkland survivors & Everytown. This book gave me a little hope as I look at the world and the many challenges we face.

While this book was thought provoking and engaging, it wasn’t anything special to me. It falls in line with other pop-pyschology books (think Predictably Irrational or Freakonomics). I appreciated what Duhigg had to say, but I’m not sure this book will stick with me in the long term. It was a great read and is a really good and interesting book. I think if you’re into pop-psychology and human behavior this is a great book for you. If you’re kick-starting your own transformation, this book might inspire you in your journey.

Don’t forget to listen to Ross and I discuss The Power of Habit further on the podcast.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 7, 2014)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Power of Habit on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Devils Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

2912C833-EC19-4E44-A72B-70B58A50E35BA friend gave me her copy of The Devil’s Highway, and told me I had to read it. This was back in February, and I just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t motivate myself to pick it up. However, in the last few weeks with all thats going on with family separation at the US border I felt compelled to finally pick up this book.

Here is a little about this book.

In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the “Devil’s Highway.” Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a “book of the year” in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic.

This book is so well crafted. It is a heartbreaking story, however there is still strength in its telling.  Urrea uses beautiful yet uncomplicated prose to describe the story of the US-Mexico border and all those who are caught navigating it’s terrain.

The Devil’s Highway is the story of one group that is representative of a greater population. Those people who feel that life has gotten too hard where ever they are, that it is better to leave home and try to find something better. Even if that means going through hell.

I think it trivializes the magnitude of this book to say it is “timely”. It does speak to this current political moment, but it was written over 15 years ago, and it spoke to that moment as well. It speaks to any moment where one group of people is trying to keep out another group. It speaks to humanity. It speaks to human nature. That is what makes this book powerful. It is about how we treat one another, when the option is, to be kind or to be cruel.

Urrea makes a point to include the narratives not only of the men walking through the desert, but also that of the coyotes, and the border agents, and the US law enforcement. He includes consulate workers from Mexico, and families of those men who left home. He is inclusive in his work, and yet he is clear in his point of view. Its a challenging balancing act, that Urrea executes perfectly. It is what gives this book credence and authenticity.

This book is graphic, and there are moments where I wanted to turn away from the story, because it was overwhelming and bleak. This book is wonderful. It is powerful. It made me feel things. It allowed me space to think about immigration and compassion. It has allowed me more perspective as I think about what it means to be American, and who has to stay out, so I can stay in.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu

AF357627-167C-4A24-A9EB-25093AF52EB2Before I say anything about this book, here is the premise.

For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there.

Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story. Searing and unforgettable, The Line Becomes a River goes behind the headlines, making urgent and personal the violence our border wreaks on both sides of the line.

This book enraged me. I found it to be a self serving and romantic look at immigration into The United States. Cantu’s story is told through short glimpses into his life. He tells us little antidotes of how he was kind to an immigrant he captured on the border, of how he literally takes the shirt off his back to give one man, and how he asks people their names. He tells us so much of his humanity, and so much of the humanity of all the border agents around him. Even the bad ones come off as not that bad, they’re Cantu’s friends after all. The problem is there is no journalistic integrity. Cantu never sites anything about his experiences, there are no dates, no records, no direct quotes. So how are we to know if any of this book really even happened? And if it did, did it happen how he says?

Every once and a while Cantu will give us a little historical context into the border, its development, the changes in its policing, and the violence that has led so many to leave central America looking for a better life in the USA. In these more academic moments, Cantu does use quotes from other writers. Thankfully. Its the only time actual quotations are used.

The Line Becomes a River is a love letter to Cantu. He writes about his trauma and his growth and the things that haunt him and the things he’s scared of, and his dreams, so much about his dreams. Its a memoir, so of course it’ll be told through his lens. However this book takes it to the extreme. He always does the right thing. He is never in the wrong, he just happens to be in the wrong profession (a profession he chose to go into for perspective). He is always our hero. There is however no one to corroborate any of his stories. It might all be fiction, how are we to know?

There is another conversation at play here, and that comes from Cantu’s desire to be a border agent in the first place. He says its because, after studying the border in college, he wants to see the border in a new way. He wants to be on the front lines. I got the sense that this book was always in the back of his mind. That when he took the job, he knew his experiences would become something more, a vehicle for him.

Cantu tells us, he is trying to humanize the immigrants he comes in contact with, but even that falls short. I couldn’t stop thinking about how the whole book felt like a ode to himself. His growth, his ability to see the humanity that others missed, his trauma, his struggling, his triumph. He is so centered in the book, its hard to believe he really can see anyone else.

When The Line Becomes a River received a lot a criticism after its release, Cantu took to twitter and said the following

“To be clear: during my years as a BP agent, I was complicit in perpetuating institutional violence and flawed, deadly policy. My book is about acknowledging that, it’s about thinking through the ways we normalize violence and dehumanize migrants as individuals and as a society.

I’m not here to defend BP. But I am here to listen and learn from the ways my writing may be construed to normalize, eroticize, or beautify border violence, and the ways my voice may amplified at the expense of those who suffer from it. Ultimately, I’m here to work against it.”

Even this clarification feels a little off. Cantu was not, as he states complicit, he was an active participant. Just like in the book, he misses the fact that he enables this activity and behavior. And it is worth noting, he does not ever truly condemn the border patrol or the US policies around immigration as violent, hostile, or hateful. He more notes that these things are true, but doesn’t do any work to say why it is that way. Just thats how it is, and isn’t it so sad that he had to live through this.

The last third of the book focuses on Cantu’s journey on the other side of the system. His undoucmented Mexican friend isn’t allowed back in the USA. Simply befriending an undocumented immigrant and helping out while he goes through court proceedings, does not wash away Cantu’s sins. Asking us to believe that it does is condescending.  It also does not mean that you’re humanizing other undocumented people. Cantu’s one experience is not neccessarily indicative of the greater picture, no matter how many pages he writes about it.

Cantu’s sense of entitlement to these stories is felt through out this book. Without any real research or journalistic integrity, we are told this story. We are asked to follow this man and trust his observations, because he is Mexican America, because he worked in border patrol, because he was given a book deal. I simply could not buy in. I don’t believe you should have to either. I would not suggest you read this book. If you’re looking for books about immigration that are both good stories and give insight into the lives of migrants and/or the border patrol look into, The Devil’s HighwayThe Far Away Brothers, and Tell Me How It Ends.Each of these books uses well sited research and beautiful writing to tell stories from the border. In addition, Radio Lab has a fantastic (and also very graphic) three part podcast about the border that is wonderful. I think these are all a much better use of your time.

Did you read this book? What did you think? I would love to hear your opinions. Comment below.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

08D6C99F-E2BF-4C67-A8D8-0F07030CC87DThe journey begins. I have committed to reading all 37 of William Shakespeare’s plays, one month for the next three years. It is all part of my #ShakeTheStacks challenge. You’re all invited to join me, as I read through the bard’s collection in chronological order (according to this website).

The first book up, The Comedy of Errors. This play is the story of two sets of twins who get all mixed up by everyone they run into. Its a true farce, with the comedy coming from bawdy jokes and moments of slapstick mistaken identity. It is also Shakespeare’s shortest play, and all the action takes place in the course of a day.

This was a fun place to start. The play is very straight forward, four men who keep getting confused. There isn’t a ton of substance to this play, but don’t let that confuse you with a lack of skill. Shakespeare does an excellent job of weaving the stories and characters together giving us scenes full of physical comedy and tons of wit. The characters are moving constantly and never quite have a breath, which leads to an enjoyable (and emotional) denouement.

While this play isn’t all silliness and running around, its mostly that. Its a sweet little treat, but nothing special (especially knowing other plays coming down the pipeline). I will say however, that even from this early work, Shakespeare is dealing with big themes and ideas. In this play we are confronted with womanhood. There is certainly some criticism of how women are rarely believed and how they are blamed for the woes that befall their husbands. Its an idea we see through out his work, and I loved seeing it this early on. We also are asked to hold the comedy of the play in stark contrast to the tragedy that precipitates it. A very Shakespearean device, and one that I love and appreciate for its complexity.

As far as structure and comedy this play is an A+. Its a great starting point,  language is straight forward and so is the plot. Have you read or seen this play? What do you think?

  • Paperback: 79 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (September 1, 1999)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Comedy of Errors on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

4387B5FD-4304-4C6C-AE33-3F41ACB0136CA few years ago, I fell in love with reading books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the most respected journalists of that subject is Sebastian Junger. He helped to create the film Restrepo which I love, and write the book War which is really good. When I saw that he wrote another book about the struggles that face our veterans when they return home, I couldn’t resist it.

If you’re not familiar with Tribehere is a little more about this book.

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. TRIBE explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

I thought this book would be about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I thought it would be stories of individual soldiers and their journeys through PTSD and how they did or didn’t find community. That is not what this book is at all. It is more of an essay on how we need to rethink our social obligations to one another. How important having a “tribe” is. And that these tribes, weather they be neighborhood or nation, help to keep humans mentally healthy.

Junger weaves in a lot of context of the power of tribe through discussing American Indian tribes (as well as other cultures more generally) and how they treat one another. How they work and live together, what things are needed to succeed, and what transgressions can not be tolerated. It is all interesting and gave me a lot to think about. He compares these tribes with American society, where they differ, and how these differences can be devastating on human survival. The book is less about the military than I thought it would be, and that was a welcome surprise. Junger is drawing larger conclusions about American society as a whole, and then connects those overreaching ideas with the military.

For the most part the book is thought provoking and well done. I loved hearing alternative theories about PTSD and more. He makes great points and really shifted my thinking about mental health. I did listen to Tribe on audiobook, and I think that Junger’s tone negatively colored my understanding of the book. Junger can be condescending. He presents his theories as fact and doesn’t leave room for any push back. He can be a little harsh. The book is short, he doesn’t give much credence to any alternative opinions.

I think this book is interesting, I know that I look at society, soldiers, and how we can do better as a people, differently thanks to Junger. I think if you’re interested in sociology and human behavior this book would make a great fit.

  • Harcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (May 24, 2016)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Tribe on Amazon
  • Listen to Tribe on Audible (for free 30-day trial and audiobook download click here)

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

 

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer

IMG_6134For this week’s The Stacks Book Club episode, we discussed Franklin Foer’s book, How Soccer Explains the World. Our guest Aaron Dolores, founder of Black Arrow FC, and I look at this book and what is has to say about race and class.

Before I do my complete review of the book, take a look at what its all about.

A groundbreaking work—named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated—How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world’s most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

The first thing of note, is that this book was written in 2006, a World Cup year, and Foer is clearly a lover of the sport. The book has the feel of someone trying to convince us, that we’re missing out and we should like soccer too. There is an earnestness, and a romanticization of all the issues that come up in the book.

While I found the idea of this book to be exciting and interesting, in actuality it lacked. In his desire to convince us to like soccer, Foer is uncomfortably uncritical. Granted, this book was written 12 years ago and issues that are front in center today, were barely discussed then. However, Foer goes out of his way to dismiss things as racialist, instead of calling them out for their blatant racism. For example, a group of reporters calling an African player a   “monkey”. This dismissal of real issues is also present when Foer justifies violent hooliganism as a charming relic of an old way of life, instead of noting the aggressive nationalism at play. I don’t know if its all as bad as I say, but as I read the book, I kept thinking who is benefiting from this? And who is at risk?

Where the book worked for me, was that the writing style was easy and straight forward. I didn’t always agree with what was being said, I understood the points being made. It is also worth noting, that most people who I have talked to who have read this book, love it. I think that can be attributed to the Foer’s style.

If you like soccer, you should read this book. It provides insight into the world’s most popular sport. If you’re not so into soccer, I think you can skip it, as it doesn’t really speak to the world on as grand of a scale as is presented in the title.

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 11, 2010)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy How Soccer Explains the World on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

C453A6E7-C6C0-4746-BDF9-2E68F8A3D081Before I share any of my thoughts, here is a little bit about Harriet A. Washington’s book.

Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions.

This book is a major accomplishment on Washington’s part. It took her years of schooling and preparation to even be able to learn the correct way to speak of these medical abuses. You can sense her passion on the issues that are brought forth, and her immense understanding of all the forces at play. This book is ambitious and vast, and for that I am eternally grateful to Washington’s patience.

Aside from exposing the many atrocities against Black bodies, one of the most important things this book does is give context to the common idea that Black people are scared of medicine and doctors. Iatrophobia is the fear of doctors and medical treatment, and after reading this book you will come to understand that the Black communities fears are well founded.

The detailed language and intricacies of this book are admirable, however they do not make for an easy read. I really struggled to get through this book. Not only because the subject matter is devastating and infuriating, but also because the book is dense. Medical Apartheid is closer to reading a text book than anything else. It is a detailed history, and Washington takes herself and her subjects seriously. While there is great care to make sure the reader understands the medical jargon, there are plenty of statistics and clinical terms through out this book. There is a lot to get tripped up on. I made it through this book, but I had to work hard. I had to earn it.

The reward is an extremely well written expose on medical practices that target Black Americans. We are led from Marion Sims’ experiments on his female slaves through to governmental chemical attacks on Black neighborhoods in the American South. There is much that has been hidden away about the racist treatment of Blacks in this country, this book scrapes the surfaces of these events.

If you’re not sure you’re ready for such a dense look at a deeply troubling topic, you might consider reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which deals with one example of medical malpractice and theft of Black patients. Another book about racism in America is Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. I think Stamped from the Beginning (you can see my full review here) makes a great companion read with Medical Apartheid, as it dives into racism in America in a way that I have not often seen in books about race.

I recommend this book to anyone who is passionate about understanding anti-Black racism in The United States, anyone who works in fields where they conduct experiments on humans, or anyone passionate about medicine. Give yourself time, and be patient. This book is worth it.

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Medical Apartheid on Amazon
  • Listen to Medical Apartheid on Audible (for your free 30-day trial and audiobook download click here)

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Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

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I have never read an advice column in my life. It is not something I seek out, or something that I have any interest in. Well, now that I’ve read Tiny Beautiful Things, that has all changed. Now, I love advice columns, but only if Cheryl Strayed is giving the advice.

If you’re not familiar with the Rumpus magazine’s Dear Sugar column here is a little of what you can expect from this book.

This bestselling book from the author of Wild collects the best of The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar advice columns plus never-before-published pieces. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

This books is special. It is full of advice. That at once seems obvious and still unique and is specific and still universal. Strayed does a thorough and compassionate job of answering the letters. She is never condescending and seems to always come from a place of working it out the best you can. Which is often harder than it sounds. She reminds people they know the answer, or she guides them toward what she thinks is right, or she shuts them down, or she builds them up. She seems to know how much of each ingredient her response needs and takes her time to doll it out.

If you don’t know Strayed, which at the time of writing to “Sugar” these people in need of advice didn’t. You assume the woman answering the questions has her whole life together, and always has. But if you do know Strayed, you know thats not true. I won’t spoil her life for you (you can read it all about it in Wild or watch Reese Witherspoon in the movie), but she has lived a big life. Its what makes her advice so precise and potent.

I don’t think I related to a lot of the letters, but some of them might as well have been written by me. I would imagine everyone who reads this book feels that at some point. Some, perhaps the best ones, are questions you’d never think to ask, but you’re so glad someone did because you needed to hear the answer.

I’m grateful to this book, I have suggested it to a lot of people. I have even mentioned it on The Stacks podcast (Ep.9 at the 39:30 mark). Everyone who has read it has enjoyed it, found it interesting at the very least and some have found it life changing. I’m grateful to this book for helping me, and those I love to see life in a new and special way.

I listened to this book, and Strayed reads it. I fell in love with her voice and her cadence and if you’re so inclined this is a fantastic audiobook. I went back a few times to listen to my favorite ones again and again. Hearing Strayed say “sweet pea” is better than I could’ve imagined.

The best news is, I just found out (and I realize this makes me very late to this party) that there is a Dear Sugars podcast, with Cheryl Strayed and the Sugar before her, Steve Almond. So once you’ve read the book go listen to the podcast. More Sugar to go around.

Read this book. Share it with a loved one. Chances are they will take something meaningful away from this book, and thats a tiny beautiful ting indeed.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.