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3BoT Vol. 8: Three Books Every American Should Read

Thursday, May 3, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 8: Three Books Every American Should Read | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

One thing that frustrates me about discussing politics with some of my fellow Americans (which, honestly, I try to avoid as much as possible) is when people are operating off ideas that could seem logical if we didn't already have evidence that they don't actually work in practice. For example, communism and trickle-down economics are both ideas that make sense when you first have them explained to you but which history has shown to not work as well as people expected.

I selected these three books as ones that I wish every American would read because they provide statistics and stories that counteract some of the more persistent notions I hear come up in political conversations. If I were required to discuss political issues with someone, I would want them to have the background knowledge contained in these books.

#1: Urban Injustice by David Hilfilker
At only 128 pages, this book doesn't require a huge investment of your time, but it will leave you with lots to think about. Hilfilker first explains how America's inner cities became primarily poor and black, then outlines all the ways that the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. What I found so refreshing about this book is he cuts right to the chase in calling out the assumptions that I as the reader had -- about how various forms of governmental assistance work, about what it actually takes to get a job, about what actually works to get people out of poverty and what myths are preventing those changes from happening. Most importantly, I think, he highlights the meaningless distinction so many Americans try to make between the "deserving" and the "undeserving" poor, that we tend to be so afraid of accidentally rewarding a few "lazy" people that we err on the side of denying benefits to people who truly need them. If you read any of these three books, read this one.

#2: The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson
This book was recommended to me by a reader (thank you!) in the comments of my post When You Say "Get a Job".... The authors painstakingly demonstrate, with chart after chart, that greater income inequality (measured by the distance between the top 20% and bottom 20%) is positively correlated with a wide variety of indicators of negative physical and mental health. The trend is clear both across countries and across the 50 United States. They also show that a country's total wealth is not related to these factors. What's interesting is that these negative effects happen across the spectrum; income inequality doesn't just negatively affect the poor, it affects everyone. The authors offer some possible explanations for why there is such a strong relationship between income inequality and poor health, but regardless of the reason, it's pretty clear that closing that gap would be good for all of us.

#3: Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson
I just finished listening to this audiobook and, regardless of whether every detail in it is accurate, I want to make my grandmother read this book before I have to have another "all Muslims are not terrorists" conversation with her. The story details how Greg Mortenson went from an aimless mountain climber to a passionate fundraiser for building schools in Pakistan (and later, Afghanistan) that would educate both boys and girls. What struck me while listening to this was just how far some of these children and their families were willing to go in order to get an education, beginning with the children kneeling on the frozen ground outside in Korphe, studiously scratching multiplication tables into the dirt despite having no teacher present. You will get angry along with Mortenson when you hear about how much more effort the U.S. Government puts into getting weapons into Afghanistan than they put into making sure the schoolteachers there get paid, and when you hear the hate mail he gets for wanting to do anything with Muslim children other than blow them to pieces. I wish all Americans could get to know the stories of the Pakinstani families that Mortenson meets and works with during the decade that this book covers.

These are the books I'd like every American to read. What books should everyone in your country read?

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  1. All 3 of these sound really interesting. I wouldn't know what to recommend all Brits read, but if there is a British version of 'Urban Injustice', focusing on British cities, then I think that would definitely be well worth reading, because although I'm sure there are plenty of similarities there are probably quite a few differences too. I'll have to look into it!

    1. Yeah, I would recommend it regardless, if nothing else for the chapter that looks at what has and has not worked in other developed countries. And The Spirit Level is definitely relevant for you -- I think the authors are actually British, if I remember correctly.

      If you find something similar to Urban Injustice focused on British cities, let me know -- I'd be interested to read it!

  2. Oooh, thanks, Jessica. Adding these to my list. I also highly recommend Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," which covers the "discovery" of America through at least the Vietnam War. If history is written by the victors, then this book counterbalances with the voices of the conquered and marginalized: Native Americans, slaves, small farmers/merchants, etc. It'll change the way you view US history for sure.

    1. I started reading that one last year but returned it to the library before I was very far into it. I bought it with a Barnes & Noble gift card I got for my birthday but haven't picked it up again yet. I will try to tackle it again soon :)

  3. I am definitely going to read Urban Injustice, at least - it sounds fascinating. I just added it to my "to read" list on Goodreads.

    1. Hopefully your "to read" list isn't as long as mine -- I've got at least 100 books on there, so I probably won't actually read all of them :)


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