The Six-Point Inspection

Debt, Grief, and Disappointment

In The Six-Point Inspection, Zócalo takes a quick look at new books that are changing the way we see our world.

Borrow: The American Way of Debt by Louis Hyman

The nutshell: Cornell University economic historian Louis Hyman traces American debt from the invention of the Ford Model-T-which everyone paid for in cash-to the rise of credit card debt in the 1990s and the mortgage crisis that triggered the current downturn. He argues that we focus too much on how businesses lend rather than on why Americans borrow.

Literary lovechild of: Marc Levinson’s The Great A&P and Michael Lewis’s The Big Short.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You wanted to feel even more terrified about taking out that mortgage.

Cocktail party fodder: During the 1950s, department store sales rose 27 percent-and discount store sales role 700 percent.

For optimal benefit: Buy the book with cash.

Snap judgment: Using anecdote, history, and detailed analysis, Hyman humanizes and clarifies America’s debt problem.


Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats by Roger Rosenblatt

The nutshell: Essayist Roger Rosenblatt meditates in brief vignettes on the sudden death of his 38-year-old daughter, life with her three young children, the persistence of grief, and his own aging-framed by a morning spent kayaking near his Long Island home.

Literary lovechild of: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You loved Rosenblatt’s Making Toast-the story of how he and his wife moved in with their son-in-law and grandchildren after their daughter died-and yearned to know what happened next.

Cocktail party fodder: The earliest description of a kayak was recorded in August 1732 by officers aboard a Russian ship in western Alaska. They spotted “a leather boat which had room for but one man.”

For optimal benefit: Keep your Kleenex close by.

Snap judgment: This slim volume manages to be expansive, with wide-reaching literary references, emotional honesty, and heartbreak.


Not in Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics by Michael C. Dawson

The nutshell: Barack Obama’s election was a false barometer of the state of black politics in America, according to University of Chicago political scientist Michael C. Dawson, who asserts that the government response to Hurricane Katrina is much more revealing of the nation’s 21st-century race relations than Obama’s election.

Literary lovechild of: Randall Kennedy’s The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the American Presidency and Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You’re frustrated by President Obama’s stance on race.

Cocktail party fodder: The gap between black and white voting rates declined from 10 to 4 percent from 2004 to 2008. In 2008, whites made up 76 percent of the U.S. electorate-compared to 80 percent in 2004 and 90 percent in 1976.

For optimal benefit: Warm up by watching Barack Obama’s March 18, 2008 speech on race and Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke-and fix yourself a Sazerac.

Snap judgment: Dawson’s surveys of black and white takes on post-Katrina New Orleans are fascinating, and they save the argument from becoming a full-blown polemic.