Over a period of five years, sociologist Arlie Hochschild traveled to Louisiana's Bayou Country to interview staunch Tea Party supporters, with the goal of trying to understand what led them to an ideological view so different from her own and seemingly at odds with their personal interests. Strangers in Their Own Land is the product of those trips. In this eloquent, heartfelt investigation, Hochschild focuses on a selection of individuals and their stance on environmental regulation (Louisiana's waterways are some of the most polluted in the country) as an entry point to exploring their relationship with a range of issues. Ultimately, Hochschild hopes to cross what she calls the "empathy wall," an emotional barrier separating people with opposing views. For many, this wall seems particularly difficult to scale right now. Hochschild shows it's still possible.
– Renee P.
This is one of the most important books I've ever read. Each chapter profiles the life of a child killed by gun violence on the same randomly selected day in America, 11/23/13. Younge is quick to point out that this isn't a book about gun control; instead, it's a book about what happens when gun control is nonexistent in a country where poverty, racism, and segregation are endemic. Younge's 10 subjects are kids whose deaths would have gone minimally reported, if at all, and whose grieving parents and friends would have been left voiceless if not for his reporting. And this happens an average of 7 times a day, 365 days a year! Another Day
forced me to look at the ways that economic inequality and structural racism rob millions of kids of safe, stable childhoods, and as a result leave thousands of them victim to the lure and violence of guns. It doesn't matter where you stand on gun ownership; none of us should be content to live in a country with so many young ghosts.
– Rhianna W.
The debut book from Knobler Fellow and Nation
writer Mychal Denzel Smith is a personal and political work that melds candid detail with trenchant analysis. Smith's book shares a revealing, self-aware recap of his coming-of-age as a young black millennial and budding wordsmith. Confronting issues of race, police violence and brutality, patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, the mental health stigma, and Obama's politics, Smith turns an incisive eye to subjects that are often overlooked within his own community. Smith is a smart, searching, and skilled writer, one committed to chronicling not only his own challenges, but also those of a culture still mired in prejudice, bigotry, disregard, and disenfranchisement. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching
is unabashed and unequivocal, and Smith is a keen observer of both himself and the world around him; an important voice in these tumultuous and trying times.
– Jeremy G.
is a superbly written, often harrowing case study of eviction in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that also shines a light on the income inequality and housing crises occurring in cities across the U.S. Matthew Desmond combines sobering research with fascinating portraits of the families and landlords trapped in a cycle of poverty and eviction, paying special attention to the plight of children. Given the growing conversation about Portland's housing shortage and homeless population, and ongoing revelations about Wall Street's ties to the predatory mortgage industry, Evicted
qualifies as an election-year must-read. It's already one of 2016's best books: sad, maddening, beautiful, and necessary.
– Rhianna W.
At a time when refugees are regarded, at best, as nameless victims or, at worst, as security threats, author Ben Rawlence brings us a searing book of nonfiction that reveals in horrifying detail what life has been reduced to inside the world's largest refugee camp. Rawlence spent four years in northern Kenya with the residents of Dadaab, a U.N.-administered settlement the size of Atlanta where half a million refugees must contend daily with malnourishment, disease, exploitation, and violence. With great compassion and the rigor of an investigative journalist, Rawlence tells the unforgettable stories of nine individuals stuck in the camp while exploring the larger forces that brought them there — and continue to hold them prisoner. Gripping, eye-opening, and infuriating, City of Thorns
is the kind of book that may just spark great social change. It's something we should all read and talk about.
– Renee P.
In this remarkable tale of the nation's largest and most devastating forest fire — which burned more than three million acres in the Pacific Northwest in 1910 — Timothy Egan vividly narrates the heroic efforts of the near 10,000 firefighters who gathered to combat the raging and unstoppable blaze. Right at the time Teddy Roosevelt fought for wilderness protection through the establishment of the Forest Service, this dramatic tale recounts the significant impact this colossal fire had on the future of conservation. Egan is a gifted storyteller, and this vivid account recreates the disaster through the lens of those who witnessed it.
I could say that Between the World and Me
, a piercing exploration of race in America, is a book that is timely and important. There's no doubt that it is. But it also has a purity and intensity that demands it be read. I cannot think of another book in recent memory so powerful, so alive, and so necessary.
– Shawn D.
Perhaps what I love most about Maggie Nelson's work is her ability to bring both other writers and the reader directly onto the page to converse with her, and she does this exceptionally well in The Argonauts
. Part memoir and part theory, The Argonauts
is a beautiful examination of queer identity, relationships, and parenthood written with stunningly careful, rich prose. The book's attention to gender expression makes it an especially timely, necessary read in a world that's slowly but surely becoming more and more open-minded about transgender people's experiences. Nelson's interest in nuance, in writing through questions but not definitively answering them, is akin to modern-day essayists like Leslie Jamison. Any and all readers will get something powerful out of this book.
Any new release by investigative journalist Jon Krakauer is bound to be controversial, but with Missoula
, Krakauer's look at campus rape across America, he's created a lightning rod for vigorous debate. Well-written and incredibly thought-provoking, Missoula
profiles a staggering number of sexual assault cases at the University of Missoula in a larger attempt to assess the extent of the campus rape problem in the U.S. and explore the troubling mechanics of our justice system. The result is a compassionate but impartial accounting of a longstanding problem only now getting the national attention it merits.
– Rhianna W.
Almost 30 years since its original publication, this absorbing, no-holds-barred condemnation of water policy in the American West remains an essential book for understanding our current water crisis, with California grappling with the most severe drought in recent history and the threat of global water shortages growing ever more real. Reisner reveals how the West's transformation from a barren landscape to a lush paradise is the result of corruption, greed, and devastating environmental practices that have plagued a vast region of the country for well over a century. Regardless of where you live, this is vital reading on our most precious resource.
– Renee P.
Steven Brill's exposé of our staggeringly complex healthcare system should be required reading for all Americans. America's Bitter Pill
clearly delineates the labyrinthine economic and political policies supporting the American healthcare industry, and provides a play-by-play account of the birth, construction, and consequences of the Affordable Care Act. The result is a nonpartisan rallying call for justice and reason that should engage, and enrage, us all.
– Rhianna W.
This slim foray into the contentious world of vaccination is courageous and stunning. In the book's introduction, Biss explains that her project began as an anxious new mother's research into the pros and cons of childhood inoculation, and ballooned into an exploration of the historical stigma and ongoing social significance of immunization. While Biss does a fine job of elucidating both sides of the vaccination debate, her real contribution is the idea that our bodies, and therefore our immunities, are social properties; in other words, when we make a private decision about vaccination, that choice impacts the overall health of our communities. Regardless of whether you agree with her conclusions, On Immunity
is a thoughtful, sympathetic work about the body public that should be required reading for all parents and medical professionals.
– Rhianna W.
Also by Powell's Staff
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• Best Short Story Collections of the 21st Century (So Far)