March 3rd, 2021

dean reading

Reviews: nonfiction

It's been a minute since I updated, sorry! In the meantime I have watched most of the first 2 seasons of The Bureau, a French workplace spy drama that my spouse likes more than I do, though I don't dislike it; it's funny that the dramatic music is reserved for workplace confrontations instead of tense moments in Iranian prison.

Binyamin Appelbaum, The Economists’ Hour: Somewhere between an intellectual history and another kind of history: how neoliberal economists took over governments’ thinking about how to run economies.

Lee Vinsel & Andrew L. Russell, The Innovation Delusion: Maintenance is super important, and a lot of things go wrong because it’s sexier to build new things than keep the existing things in good shape. The authors think that our commitment to “innovation” is therefore a mistake, though a new bridge might not be innovative; the “innovation” mindset, they argue, has become a buzzword even as innovations have actually slowed down. I basically agreed but I’m not sure how much I learned.

Justin Gest, Mass Appeal: Communicating Policy Ideas in Multiple Media: Short book with some basics about distilling ideas into topic sentences/tweets/elevator pitches and the like; not novel but might be a useful reference. Important but hard-to-follow advice about reading one’s written work aloud and practicing speeches, ideally in front of someone else.

Andy Mulvihill with Jake Rossen, Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park: Very funny writing (but watch out for the descriptions of grim accidents) recounting the history of Action Park, where fun was always prioritized over safety. The descriptions of the teenage workers’ shenanigans took me back to my own youth, where we did things that were largely less stupid than what these people did, but with the same sense of recklessness and cameraderie.

Daniel M. Lavery, Something That May Shock and Discredit You: Memoir-ish account, punctuated by Lavery’s distinctive imagined conversations/monologues in the voices of historical/literary characters, of his transition and his relationship to transness and religious faith. Reminded me a lot of David Sedaris in exposing his own uncertainties and follies.

James Forman, Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Fantastic exploration of the dynamics that led Black politicians and voters to support tough on crime policies, almost always as part of a more comprehensive education, public health, and anti-poverty policy to protect Black communities. But they only got the tough on crime (and, Forman points out, the hiring of Black police officers, but that didn’t end up helping many Black people who weren’t protected by class position and location outside of poor neighborhoods). It’s a compelling and sad story.

Bonnie Honig, Shellshocked: Essays of feminist criticism in the age of Trump. She argues that shock politics and disaster capitalism are intimately intertwined with misogyny, and starts by performing a close reading of Trump’s family romance with gilding, TV, and monarchical aspirations, down to naming his son Barron, which is also the name he used when he was pretending to be a spokesman for himself. There are some gems in her analysis of pop culture phenomena, such as when she discusses the show Unbelievable by evoking W.E.B. Du Bois’s question “How does it feel to be a problem?” and arguing that the analogous question for misogyny is “How does it feel to be unbelievable?” because un/believability is structural. But I didn’t learn an awful lot.

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