Non-Fiction American History
11. A People's History of the United States 1492 - Present by Howard Zinn - history is often written by the victors. This book helped me see all the others in history.
12. A History of the American People by Paul Johnson - American history seen through the lens of someone not American.
13. Through Women's Eyes: An American History with Documents Volume 1 and 2 edited by Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil. A more intersectional look at American history. Very academic but still quite readable.
14. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis - it was hard to pick one Lewis book because I am such a fan of his writing, but this was the first I read so on the list it goes.
15. The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado by Holly Bailey - the story of how the Moore, OK tornado happened and the aftermath. Heartbreaking but also the writing kept me turning pages quickly.
16. Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel - a what if? premise that is a very realistic threat. Infrastructure matters.
6. Mississippi to Madrid: Memoir of a Black American in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade by James Yates - first book I read in my first history class in college. That semester the class (HISTORY 101 for History Majors) was spent learning all about the Spanish Civil War and this was what my professor started with as a bridge between American history and the conflict in Spain. Many POC who fought in the Lincoln Brigade would go on to serve in WWII and had more experience fighting Germany than their white counterparts because they had already seen the destruction the Nazis could do in war via Spain. Also a theme in the book is living life under Jim Crow and then going abroad to fight for another people's liberation. Can't recommend this one enough.
7. Night by Elie Wiesel - should be required reading for every high school freshman in the US. And every member of the US political realm.
8. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana - ditto the sentiments in number 7.
9. Call the Midwife series by Jennifer Worth - while I do love the show, the memoirs of a mid-wife/district nurse in the poorest area of London after the war is a must read, especially in light of how the NHS is being used as a pawn in the Brexit/PM race. The second book doesn't deal with pregnancy or childbirth but does deal with people who are otherwise invisible.
10. Plenty of Time When We Get Home (Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War) by Kayla Williams - Kayla and Brian were friends, meeting through different times while both served in Afghanistan. Brian was involved in roadside bombing but nobody could know the depths of his injuries until much later. Kayla and Brian eventually fell in love and got married, but dealing with their own and each other's PTSD and Brian's physical injuries were challenging. Kayla and Brian are now working in the VA, hoping to create change in culture and attitude as well as policies that hinder a veteran's progress. I follow Kayla on Twitter and she is just a great person to highlight how women veterans are faring in the VA and what we can all do to help.
english review (not spoilerfree)
audiobook on audible
Summary: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
My review: Character growth at it's finest!!!
I love Mei. I love her in the beginning of the book where she tries very hard to please her parents but gets no affection in return. I love her while she is struggeling to make her own decisions, live the life she actually wants to live without offending her parents. And I love her when she finally stands up for herself. I LOVE HER, she has just such an amazing growth throughout the whole book.
I loved Mei reconnecting with her brother and the whole relationship she started to have with him and his future wife. And just everything. I was so excited when she made the first step towards him.
I also really liked that she started for form relationships at college. That she and her roomate made up and that they started to have a really sweet friendship. Also her budding romance with Darren, who I truly loved. I really liked how their relationship developed. What I loved even more was that the relationship between them didn't overpower the story. At the end of it all, this was Mei's story, finding her own voice in a family that liked to control everything about their children.
To be honest, I was pretty sure the book would end with Mei being completely cut off from her parents, but I'm glad that her mother actually came around, that she really tried to make an effort to better her relationship with her daughter.
Overall I truly loved the story, the characters and the writing (I also really enjoyed the voice of the audiobook reader). I can't wait to read more by the author.
This disappointed me. It’s not really a memoir – which is probably for the best; the author wrote it at age 29 and his life to that point doesn’t sound especially remarkable – but instead it’s a 220-page op-ed piece without a single citation. It’s all the author’s opinions about various contemporary events and social justice issues, including lengthy descriptions of news and pop cultural events, including entire segments of the Dave Chappelle Show, excerpts from Obama’s speeches, descriptions of events in sports, etc.
The book begins by talking about unarmed black men sometimes being shot by the police, which clearly makes the author angry and upset (rightly so), but he doesn’t have anything original to say about it, unless you count the offhand claim that this is a deliberate effort to keep the black community down. By whom, he doesn’t say. Does he think police officers are doing this on purpose, rather than making bad snap judgments because they, like everyone else, grew up in a stew of racism in which the evening news constantly associates black men with crime? Or is it that these shootings have the effect of keeping people fearful, even without dastardly intentions? How does the rate of police shootings of unarmed black people compare to the rate of police shootings of unarmed people of other races? Why doesn't he talk about the racist genesis of the drug war? The facts are out there, but Smith seems interested only in sharing his own opinions, which might be more valuable without all the unsupported claims.
But then, shocking but unsupported claims seem to be his trademark; he writes about an incident in college where a protest in support of the Jena Six at his HBCU was preempted by a last-minute pep rally, and he responded with an op-ed entitled “Hampton University Hates Black People.” A professor later pointed out to him that the university (which is 90% black) consists of a lot more people than the one administrator who made that decision, and Smith acknowledges the point, but clearly hasn’t changed his style.
People have also praised Smith as a black male feminist, but I found this portion of the book to be the least valuable. Yes, the civil rights movement sidelined black women, and today’s black culture (as well as white culture) could certainly do better. But Smith’s criticism is over-the-top. He takes lengthy aim at a rap song (“Brenda's Got a Baby”) for insufficiently specifying what makes its female subject unintelligent, but it seems to me “the girl can barely spell her name” makes things clear enough in this context; it's a song, not a novel. Then there's this passage: “There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t abused a woman in some way. Through outright lies and lies of omission, deception and manipulation, exploitation and judgment, silencing and ignoring.” At the point that you define every negative behavior as “abuse,” the word becomes meaningless. And it’s unhelpful to paint gender relations with such a broad brush – claiming that all these behaviors carry more weight when enacted by men due to patriarchy – when African-American women do better than their male counterparts in important areas such as educational attainment. It’s a subject that requires nuanced analysis, and Smith doesn’t offer any, apparently opting instead to just prove himself “woke” and move on.
There are a couple of chapters that are better, though. To me the best is the chapter about homosexuality, where Smith writes honestly about dealing with his own homophobia, and about the ways that the homophobia and macho requirements of black male culture are damaging to everyone involved, and about realizing his own heterosexual privilege. The chapter on mental illness is also decent – he writes about his own struggles with depression and anxiety, and how long it took him to acknowledge this as a genuine problem, and how dealing with discrimination and violence causes mental health issues. Again, though, this chapter would have benefited a lot from some research to back up Smith’s opinions; some studies, some interviews with experts, some statistics would have improved it immeasurably.
In the end, Smith touches on a lot of important topics, but he doesn’t do so in a way that seems helpful in moving the conversation forward. This is essentially a book-length op-ed, but like most op-eds, it offers simply rhetoric, which will have people who already agree with the writer nodding along without coming away armed with new facts or knowledge, and people who disagree dismissing the piece for its inflated language and unsupported claims. And in his criticism of Obama for talking about the complaints of working-class white people alongside those of black people, he comes across more interested in proving his righteousness than in finding solutions; ironically, the exact same attitude shared by Trump voters. A quick read, but as a cultural contribution it’s lightweight.