Archives For Social Criticism


One of this week’s best new book releases is…

Natural Causes:
An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Barbara Ehrenreich

Hardback: Twelve, 2018
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
Listen to this public radio interview from WNYC 
with the author about this provocative new book:
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Accessible Silence
A Review of

Silence: In the Age of Noise
Erling Kagge

Hardcover: Pantheon, 2017.
Buy Now: [  Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Bailey Shannon
Erling Kagge is a man of many talents. As an explorer, lawyer, art collector, publisher, and author, Kagge possesses rich knowledge that touches all parts of the human experience. In his most recent book Silence: In the Age of Noise , Kagge reflects on some his life experiences in an attempt to answer the following questions: What is silence? Where is it? Why is it more important now than ever?

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“Get Proximate to Suffering”
A Feature Review of

White Awake:
An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White

Daniel Hill

Paperback: IVP Books, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [  Kindle ]
Reviewed by Justin Cober-Lake
CNN showed the terror happening in the park where I used to eat my lunch. It showed a man being beaten in the garage where I used to park for church. It showed a car attack on the street where I used to go for Chinese food and used books. My town Charlottesville turned into a danger zone before my eyes, and – while I was safely away on vacation – I tried to account for my friends who were downtown.

The events that happened last summer connect to public arguments over Confederate statues, similar to the debates taking place across the US South. The conversations after the tragedy of August 12 (and before that, during the previous election cycle) became more urgent, whether in home groups, bars, or Girl Scout meetings, or on social media. The urgency hasn’t helped the clarity; the same miscommunication continues, and the weight of the same conversations and same experience of talking past each other still lies heavy.

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The Present, Shameful Debacle.

A Review of

No One Cares About Crazy People:
The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America
Ron Powers

Hardback: Hachette Books, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle  ]


Reviewed by Ben Brazil


*** LISTEN to an NPR interview
     with the author of this book… 


When Scott Walker was in the midst of his successful run for Wisconsin’s governorship, Milwaukee County Hospital faced allegations that its mentally ill patients had suffered vicious abuse. As Walker’s team worried about political fall-out – he was Milwaukee County executive at the time – an aid’s email offered reassurance.  “No one,” she explained, “cares about crazy people.”

Ron Powers’ new book, which draws its title from that callous phrase, provides infuriating proof that it is entirely accurate, as well as heartbreaking evidence that it is not.  On the infuriating side, Powers provides a nuanced, multi-layered history of the callousness, ignorance, greed, and ideological rigidities that have left the nation’s mentally ill in “conditions of atrocity” (xix).

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Today (October 5th) marks the anniversary of the death of one of the most important social critics of the past 50 years, Neil Postman.  In honor of the occasion, we offer this introductory reading guide to his work.

We’ve ordered this list in the order that we think the books should be read, and we offer a brief explanation of why each book was included. We’ve included excerpts of most the books via Google Books.

1)  Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

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The World As a Waiting Room

A Review of

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness
Gordon Stewart

Paperback: Wipf & Stock, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Madeline Cramer

“For a split second, I imagine the world
as a waiting room.”


“Strange as it may seem, I often feel the way John Lennon did. I dream of a different kind of world…” the Presbyterian minister and social commentator Gordon Stewart says in “Creating Hell in the Name of Heaven”—one of a collection of brief essays in his book Be Still: Departure from Collective Madness. And, considering the timeless popularity of John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” don’t we all long for something more than what we see in front of us? Don’t we all envision a better world? If not, what would motivate us? Who would want to raise children in a world doomed to fail? Who would go to church believing that God’s kingdom would never come? But, of course, as his essay notes, that’s the Catch-22. As humans, we continue to imagine because we want a better world, but our desire for “better” also breeds anxiety. Why aren’t things already better? Who stands against us? Against our children? Is it ISIS? Is it the Republicans? Is it you?

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One of this week’s best new book releases is …

Vanishing New York:
How a Great City Lost Its Soul
Jeremiah Moss

Hardback: Dey Street Books, 2017
Buy Now:  [  Amazon ]  [ Kindle  ]
This is an insightful and provocative book on the future of cities by the creator of the Vanishing New York blog

Listen to a great interview that the author did with public radio station WNYC…

(If the embedded player below doesn’t work, CLICK HERE to listen…)
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Living into Focus - Arthur BoersThe Focused Life We Want

Living into Focus:

Choosing What Matters

in an Age of Distractions.

Arthur Boers

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Review by Maria Drews

There are times when I look back and cannot remember what I have been doing for the last hour. Jumping from one activity to the next, making something in the kitchen while cleaning up the living room, playing the Colbert Report on my laptop in the background and attempting to answer a few nagging emails on my phone before dinner is done. Instead of efficient multitasking, I end up with a half-cleaned living room, a poorly timed dinner, emails left to reply to before bed, and an episode of Colbert I barely listened to, even though I heard the whole thing.  I may be more easily distracted than I would like to admit. Funny thing is, although I long for a focused, full, good life, I’ll probably opt for the same distracted evening tomorrow night, too.

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A Review of

Bright Before Us: A Novel
Katie Arnold-Ratliff
Paperback:  Tin House, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Thomas Turner.

Spinning a tale of love lost in an age of detachment, individualism and postmodern angst, Katie Arnold-Ratliff has given us a stunning debut novel in Bright Before Us. From the first pages, when we are introduced to the cynical, wandering soul of the protagonist, Arnold-Ratliff begins to build a story that is haunting like a gothic novel but has the characteristics of a chic lit novel. Like Sufjan Stevens using auto-tune in an epic indie rock symphony or Quentin Tarantino using B-movie sensibilities in arthouse cinema, Arnold-Ratliff has used the now-clichéd Jane Austen approach to a love story and turned it on its head, breathing into it the raw humanity of love in a dark world, the moral ambiguity of Generation Y and the listlessness of a new generation of men.

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“How We Might Regain Worthwhile,
Cherished Places and Neighborhoods

A review of
Three new books related to
Interstate Transportation
And the Destruction of Places.

Review by Brent Aldrich.

Photo - Brent Aldrich - Click to Enlarge

The Big Roads:
The Untold Story
of the Engineers, Visionaries…

by Earl Swift
HMHarcourt, 2011
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]
[ Kindle ]
The Transcontinentals and the Making
of Modern America
by Richard White.
Norton, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]
[ Kindle ]
Railroad Stations:
The Buildings That Linked the Nation

David Naylor
Norton, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]

THE BIG ROADS - SwiftThe first problem is by now a familiar one: the particularly American capacity for self-destruction of our cherished human and common realms in favor of the scale and privatization of the automobile, and its ensuing snare of roads, speed, and placeless suburbanized development.

The second problem – and I take this one personally – is that our 47,000 mile Interstate Highway System, the crowning legacy of the Auto Age, may be traced back to an Indianapolis cyclist.


So especially with that second point in mind, and a few new books about American transportation history, a few reflections seem to be in order. To begin with, Earl Swift’s The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways begins with Carl Fisher, builder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, racing, repairing, selling… bicycles: riding one on a tightrope between downtown buildings, building another that was two stories tall, shoving another off of a highrise as a promotional gimmick – whoever dragged the wreckage to his shop received a free new bike. (I love this pre-1900 bike propaganda, and could make a case that it’s this lack of delightful bike culture in Indianapolis now that most discourages more bicyclists).

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