For this assignment, please read one of the books on this list or select a book that is relevant to this course, with my approval. Your papers should be 4 pages, double-spaced.
Please number and respond to each of these sets of questions. Please turn in only one paper and one file.
If you read a book that is not on this list, please also briefly summarize the book and explain how it is relevant to the class. Then, please address the following questions:
1/ What were the most important points raised in the book, in your view? Try to be specific; don’t just mention a topic that was covered but focus instead on a perspective or argument that was conveyed by the book. For example, one of the books on the list, “Across the Wire,” tells readers about the lives of migrant families living in Tijuana garbage dumps. In responding to this question, try to determine what conclusions or impressions the author is intending to leave with you, or actually does leave with you. For example, how do you think the author regards poverty? As a personal failing? A product of unfair circumstances? Or. . . ? Avoid summarizing the plot of the book or discussing the book very generally. Your review should clearly convey that you read the book entirely, not merely skimmed it or read descriptions of it elsewhere.
2/ What points did the author make that lacked adequate support or explanation? What counter-arguments did she/or he overlook? What other weaknesses or deficiencies did you find in how the author presented the information?
3/ What is the relevance of the author’s points to American culture, society, or politics? Try to be specific in answering this question. All of these books are RELATED to American politics, but try to explain specifically HOW? What did you learn from the book that shaped your understanding of a political issue? What did you learn about how political problems are addressed (or why they are ignored)? The point of reading these books is to help you think about how to use the political process to address the conditions in people’s lives. It is great to find a book moving, or interesting, but what greater meaning does the book convey, i.e., what does the book tell us about our political system?
4/ What other reactions/conclusions do you wish to share? You don’t need to say anything further, but if you have thoughts that you have included previously, this is a good place to share.
As you craft your paper, try to write your paper to address the grading criteria that I have set for the assignment.
_____Useful, important observations
_____Clear, concise writing
_____Well organized (Clear thesis, strong transitions between topics and ideas)
_____Solid analytical content, i.e., consideration of implications/significance
Would Have Been Better If:
______Offered your own perspective
______Cited the course materials or other sources to back up your assertions
______Organized your thoughts by starting with a thesis and building on it
______Improved grammar, spelling, punctuation
______Avoided unnecessary words
______Improved analytical content by considering consequences, implications
1/ use specific language, rather than vague language, e.g., the author discussed racism v. the author discussed how racism infects the criminal justice system. Even the second example can be more precise. “. . .how racism infects the criminal justice system and results in longer sentences for people of color.”
2/keep your sentences short, limited to one thought. You cannot go wrong with a simple sentence that contains one thought.
3/If you make a vague reference, i.e., “it underscores the problem we have with inequality,” replace all the vague stuff with specific ideas, what is IT (poverty, unequal sentencing?) and who is the WE? do you mean the U.S.? Who specifically in the United States?
4/Provide citations for specific assertions. If you write that a majority of Americans are middle class, then you need a SOURCE for that. Since you are reviewing books, if your statement comes from the book, simply provide a page number.
5/Use the author’s LAST name; never refer to the author by his or her first name. Also, some students think that any book which tells a story is a NOVEL. This is not correct. A NOVEL is a work of FICTION (FAKE). There are NO NOVELS on my list.
Many of the books on the list are available at libraries, but can also be purchased via Amazon.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Book Review Book List
A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen
Both of these first two books discuss aspects of American history that don’t get so much attention, such as Columbus’s role in introducing slavery, and the treatment of the first natives he encountered. Loewen’s book looks at issues as they are typically discussed by high school history books. Students generally like both of these books, but seem to like Zinn the best. If you select Zinn, you need only read eight chapters of your choice, although there are some advantages to reading them chronologically.
Sundown Towns, James Loewen
This book deals with the laws and practices put in place outside the south to maintain racial segregation and to close off entire communities to African-Americans. This is one of the most important books I have ever read.
Across the Wire, Luis Urrea
This is a wrenching discussion of the conditions endured by people who live in the dumps of Tijuana, and the experiences of Urrea as he tries to provide assistance. Students are generally moved by this book and glad to have read it.
Down to the Wire, David Orr
This book deals with the politics of global warming, and provides excellent insight into the working of the American political system, and why important issues like global warming, are so difficult to address.
The End of Nature, Bill McKibben
This is one of the very first books to address the problem of global warming, but it doesn’t just consider that issue; as the title suggests, it posits the idea that humans have so thoroughly altered the natural world through technological innovation that “nature” as a force independent of humans, no longer exists and considers the implications of that.
A Language Older than Words, Derrick Jensen
A Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen
The first of the Jensen books is a personal memoir/political commentary that addresses child abuse, animal abuse, destruction of the natural world, racism, sexism, and in the process critiques our cultural beliefs and practices. The second book is more of a cultural critique that also takes a historical view. Both books are easy to read, but contain content that may be offensive due to criticisms of religion, especially Christianity, criticism of politicians, and the American government, and also contains profanity and sexually explicit language, etc.
Broken: A Love Story, Lisa Jones
This book appears to be about an American Indian horse trainer, but turns out to be mostly about the personal journey of the writer, who is not native, as she visits Wyoming to learn more about the horse trainer and his methods. She becomes engrossed in his world and reservation life, and like “Across the Wire,” the book gives the reader a glimpse into communities that often receive too little attention.
Truth, Torture and the American Way, Jennifer Harbury
This book discusses America’s support for torture and its involvement in governments that engage in torture. It provides a view of American foreign policy to which most Americans are not exposed, and also asks difficult questions about torture, which is a violation of international human rights law. This book is also an easy read.
There Are No Children Here, Alex Kotlowitz
This is an older book, written in 1990s, about two young boys growing up in one of Chicago’s tough public housing projects. It is a moving human story that most students like and are glad to have read. Like Broken, and Across the Wire, this book gives a closer look to conditions and situations that are often ignored.
Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson was a well-known “gonzo” journalist who has been portrayed in a movie by Johnny Depp. This book is Thompson’s discussion of the presidential campaign of 1972. The book is entertaining, offensive (vulgar language, use of racial slurs, drug use, criticism of religion, politicians, etc.) but also provides a good insight into the political atmosphere of the early 70’s, and that era continues to have a strong influence on us today. It also gives you a good sense of the political strategizing that occurs during presidential elections.
Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties, Vine Deloria, Jr.
This book was also written in the 1970s when American Indians were pressing their demands for greater independence and control over their own affairs. This book explains the ideas behind the movement and its importance to American Indians. It provides good historical overview of American Indian/U.S. history.
From Freedom to Slavery, and Give Me Liberty, Gerry Spence
Spence is a famous lawyer who has an interesting view of whether the U.S. is democratic. Both of these books express concern about the loss of freedom in the U.S, and the role of government and corporate power. The second book provides ideas for change.
How Much is Enough, Alan Durning
This is a book that discusses how much material consumption is necessary for human happiness. Short, easy to read, interesting. The statistics are dated but the central theme is more timely than ever.
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
This is a book by an attorney who has spent his life assisting clients facing the death penalty. It deals with the injustice of the criminal system as it pertains to people who are poor and/or people of color. Students have loved this book.