Reviewed Elsewhere [Vol. 2, #43]

November 6, 2009

 

The NY Review of Books Reviews
Three Recent Books on Prisons

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23382

1.

With approximately 2.3 million people in prison or jail, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world—by far. Our per capita rate is six times greater than Canada’s, eight times greater than France’s, and twelve times greater than Japan’s. Here, at least, we are an undisputed world leader; we have a 40 percent lead on our closest competitors—Russia and Belarus.

Even so, the imprisoned make up only two thirds of one percent of the nation’s general population. And most of those imprisoned are poor and uneducated, disproportionately drawn from the margins of society. For the vast majority of us, in other words, the idea that we might find ourselves in jail or prison is simply not a genuine concern.

For one group in particular, however, these figures have concrete and deep-rooted implications—African-Americans, especially young black men, and especially poor young black men. African-Americans are 13 percent of the general population, but over 50 percent of the prison population. Blacks are incarcerated at a rate eight times higher than that of whites—a disparity that dwarfs other racial disparities. (Black–white disparities in unemployment, for example, are 2–1; in nonmarital childbirth, 3–1; in infant mortality, 2–1; and in net worth, 1–5[1]).

In the 1950s, when segregation was still legal, African-Americans comprised 30 percent of the prison population. Sixty years later, African-Americans and Latinos make up 70 percent of the incarcerated population, and that population has skyrocketed. The disparities are greatest where race and class intersect—nearly 60 percent of all young black men born between 1965 and 1969 who dropped out of high school went to prison at least once on a felony conviction before they turned thirty-five. And the incarceration rate for this group—black male high school dropouts—is nearly fifty times the national average.[2]

Read the full review:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23382

Race, Incarceration, and American Values.
Glenn C. Loury, with Pamela S. Karlan,
Tommie Shelby, and Loïc Wacquant

Hardback: Boston Review/MIT Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice.
Paul Butler

Hardback: New Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities:
Reentry, Race, and Politics
.
Anthony C. Thompson

Paperback: New York University Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


Dave Eggers Reviews
a new collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s
Unpublished Short Fiction
For the NY Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/books/review/Eggers-t.html

It’s been two years since Kurt Vonnegut departed this world, and it’s hard not to feel a bit rudderless without him. Late in his life, Vonnegut issued a series of wonderfully exasperated columns for the magazine In These Times. During the darkest years of the Bush administration, these essays, later collected in “A Man Without a Country,” were guide and serum to anyone with a feeling that pretty much everyone had lost their minds. In a 2003 interview, when asked the softball question “How are you?” he answered: “I’m mad about being old, and I’m mad about being American. Apart from that, O.K.”

Vonnegut left the planet just about the time we, as a nation, were crawling toward the light again, so it’s tempting to wonder what he would have made of where we are now. Would he have been pleased by the election of Barack Obama? Most likely he’d have been momentarily heartened, then exasperated once again witnessing the lunatic-­strewn town halls, the Afghanistan quagmire, the triumph of volume over reason, of machinery over humanity.

For the last many decades of his life, Vonnegut was our sage and chain-­smoking truth-teller, but before that, before his trademark black humor and the cosmic scope of “Cat’s Cradle” and “Slaughterhouse-­Five,” he was a journeyman writer of tidy short fictions.

Read the full review:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/books/review/Eggers-t.html

LOOK AT THE BIRDIE:
Unpublished Short Fiction
Kurt Vonnegut.

Hardback: Delacorte Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


Powells’ Books Reviews
THE COLLECTOR by Jack Nisbet

http://bit.ly/3q5oH9

The man who gave his name to the magnificent Douglas fir was in the second wave of white adventurers in the great Pacific Northwest, and you get the feeling, reading Jack Nisbet’s fascinating new biography, The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest, that he regretted his tardiness. Oh, to be first and most!

Born the son of a stonemason in 1799 in the village of Old Scone, Scotland, Douglas seemed a true child of the century that was about to disappear. Enlightened, ambitious, opportunistic, with a restless spirit and a scientific mind, he might have been a character from a Henry Fielding novel — a little headstrong, even obstinate, yet amiable and determined to make his way in the world.

By the time Douglas reached the mouth of the Columbia River on April 15, 1825, after an ocean voyage of eight months and 14 days, seafarers such as James Cook, Robert Gray and George Vancouver had long beat him to the Northwest punch. So had the French Canadian trappers and voyageurs. So had another Scotsman, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and the Americans Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who had made their arduous cross-country treks to the Pacific before Douglas was born or when he was in knee pants.

Read the full review:
http://bit.ly/3q5oH9

The Collector:
David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest
.
Jack Nisbet.

Hardback: Sasquatch Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]