Book Reviews

Zócalo’s Summer Reading List

Ten Past Guests Select Your Beachside Books

To kick off the first full week of summer, Zócalo asked 10 past guests – including economists, journalists, scholars and a video game designer – to tell us what we should be reading on the beach between now and Labor Day. No vampire romances or murder mysteries here: these nonfiction works will get you thinking hard about more than just your tan line.

1) Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook

Of all the pieces I published at Gourmet, Barry’s piece on the tomato slaves of Florida is the one that I’m most proud of. It was an incredible piece of reporting, and it gave voice to some of the most abused workers in America.  Now Barry has expanded that article into this astonishing book.  If you have ever bought a tomato at a supermarket, or eaten a slice of tomato on a fast food hamburger, you must read this book.

Ruth Reichl is editorial advisor of Gilt Taste and former editor of Gourmet magazine, as well as the author of several books. She participated on a Zócalo panel celebrating the life of Gourmet on Jan. 19, 2010.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

2) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, by Martin E.P. Seligman

Flourish is a mind-blowing look at the most important and practical positive psychology research from the past decade. It’s also a memoir of Seligman, one of the most paradigm-shifting researchers in the history of psychology. That makes this book a one-two punch: great, practical, scientifically-backed ideas for changing your life – as well as fascinating insight into how one person can go about changing the way an entire generation of researchers think and work.

Jane McGonigal is a renowned game designer and author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She visited Zócalo to discuss the future of gaming on Feb. 9, 2011.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

3) Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo

Duflo and Banerjee, the founders of MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, pioneered the use of randomized controlled trials – or RCTs - to study development projects. RCTs are the approach used to test medicines for effectiveness – you take a group of, say, 100 people and use a lottery to assign 50 of them to get a treatment while the other 50 don’t, then see which set does better. But rather than a pill or a vaccine, the “treatment” for a development RCT might be the opportunity to get a microloan, or a payment to keep your kids in school. Banerjee and Duflo’s research won’t end poverty in our lifetime, but it tells us a lot about what works and what doesn’t in development, covering topics from health and education to elections and microfinance.  The book is written in an engaging and very readable style, filled with anecdotes from the authors’ many years working in developing countries.

Charles Kenny is a development economist at the World Bank and the author of Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding – And How We Can Improve the World Even More. He visited Zócalo to talk about the potential for global utopia on April 20, 2011.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

4) Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, by Mike Weiss

Weiss’s dazzling Double Play ought to be in the library of every Californian. It offers the definitive account of San Francisco’s crime of the (last) century: Dan White’s murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. A new, revised and expanded edition includes Dan White’s never-before-revealed confession to his old friend, Det. Frank Falzon, just prior to White’s suicide, including who else he was targeting for assassination that grim November day.

Larry Adelman is co-director and head of production for California Newsreel and the executive producer of Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? He participated on a Zócalo panel on how to solve health inequality on May 12, 2011.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

5) Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – And Keep – Love, by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller

Attachment theory suggests that the success or failure of a human infant’s first effort to find security – by attaching to its mother or another adult caregiver – influences that person’s relationships throughout life.  In this book, psychiatrist Levine and psychologist Heller show readers how to apply attachment theory to their own efforts to secure a loving relationship.  Their advice is based on the latest research and their writing is clear and accessible.

Peter Lovenheim is a journalist and the author of In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time. The book won Zócalo’s first annual book prize, and he visited Zócalo to discuss what makes a good neighbor on April 8, 2011.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

6) Fuego Cruzado: Las Víctimas Atrapadas en la Guerra del Narco, by Marela Turati

In Fuego Cruzado (Crossfire: Caught in the Drug War), Turati writes about the victims left behind by Mexico’s drug war, the killings often described as “collateral damages” in media reports. In her brave chronicling of victims – orphans, widows, children and adults alike – Turati profiles what social damage looks like, what “collateral damage” means when they’re teenagers gunned down at a party. What going back to the place of a massacre feels like, long after the massacre has been forgotten. Turati looks beyond the headlines and brings us behind the scenes into the lives of people whose lives have been changed irrevocably by drug-related violence. The type of reporting in Turati’s book is the type of journalism we’re not seeing much of these days in Mexico.

Susana Seijas is a freelance journalist and television producer based in Mexico City. She moderated a panel of journalists discussing the challenges of telling Mexico’s stories in Los Angeles on June 1, 2011 and Phoenix on June 2, 2011.

Buy the book: Sanborns

—————————————————————————————————————

7) Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, by Edward Glaeser

Written by a leading Harvard economist, Glaeser offers a sweeping overview of cities across thousands of years.  He calls cities our “greatest invention” and talks about the key role that cities will continue to play in improving our quality of life.  His book is factual and well written and should appeal to a broad audience interested in both U.S cities and rapidly growing cities in the developing world.

Matthew Kahn is an economist and Luskin Scholar at UCLA and author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in a Hotter Future. He visited Zócalo to discuss how cities will adapt to global warming on Oct. 26, 2010.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

8 ) The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, by David Brooks

Surveying a wide range of recent research in brain function, psychology and sociology, Brooks resolves, “The research being done today reminds us of the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, character over I.Q., emergent, organic systems over linear, mechanistic ones, and the idea that we have multiple selves over the idea that we have a single self.” Brooks’ compelling arguments should be considered by anyone with a hand in forming public policy.

Pete Peterson is Executive Director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy. He participated on a Zócalo panel about why Californians don’t talk about politics on May 19, 2011.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

9) To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, by Adam Hochschild

Hochschild’s To End All Wars is an epic told in miniatures, a moral history of “The Great War” that focuses on a small and eclectic cast of characters to bring out the inner history of the first global war fought with modern weaponry. Hoshschild tells the story with extraordinary sensitivity to the moral stakes of the conflict and leaves the reader with a palpable sense of the myriad ways in which the conflict’s legacy is still with us today.

John Fabian Witt is a law professor at Yale and author of several books on legal history. He visited Zócalo to discuss the evolution of the laws of war on March 14, 2011.

Buy the book: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

—————————————————————————————————————

10) The Complete Works of Jane Jacobs

Forget the new books. If you haven’t read the complete Jane Jacobs, consider that your summer goal. Most people read Jacobs’ classic on urban life The Death and Life of Great American Cities and call it a day. That’s a mistake. Her two books on economic life (The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations) tell more about the dynamics of development than anything that came out in 2011. And Systems of Survival explains more about how institutions work than the latest pop social psychology book found in airport bookstore windows.

Bill Bishop is editor of The Daily Yonder and author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. He participated on a Center for Social Cohesion panel on the forces dividing Americans on June 13, 2011.

Buy the books: Skylight Books, Powell’s, Amazon

*Photo courtesy of libicocco.