If March had a theme for me, I suppose it would have been ‘Occupy’? I may be several years late to the movement, but most of what I read this month seemed to have been written by someone involved in the Occupy protests and movements of the past half-dozen years. It’s easy to love anarchists when you’re only meeting them on the page in the realm of ideas, right? Well, I certainly love reading anarchists. Here’s the best of what I read for pleasure (i.e. not for work or for my dissertation) in March of 2017.
- Finally finished David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years. One of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. It took me several months, but was well worth every hour spent on it.
- After finishing Debt I pretty much immediately read two of Graeber’s other books. The first one I tackled was The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. Smart, funny, and insightful, with a strong anarchist slant and a number of creative readings of many of the ubiquitous cultural and political structures that many of us love to hate.
- I also read Graeber’s The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement. Far more pragmatic and anecdotal than the previous two books, with a number of nostalgia-tinged recastings of Occupy’s ‘success,’ but still a worthwhile read. Turned me on to Starhawk, and her writings on empowerment, group facilitation, and productive ‘consensus-driven’ meetings, which was a fortuitous discovery.
- Cathy O’Neil’s terrific Weapons of Math Destruction. Short, smart, clearly organized and tightly argued, this book about the dangers of poorly designed, opaque algorithms and their impact on nearly every aspect of both public and private life is highly recommended, as is Cathy’s mathbabe blog.
- I also read Zephyr Teachout’s Corruption in America. It was a fascinating historical study of political corruption, with a cluster of eye-opening episodes I’d never heard about (Yazoo, anybody?), but it was also definitely written by a lawyer, so caveat lector.
Against my better judgment I dabbled more than I wanted to in journalism (feels like junk food sometimes, especially when there are so many excellent books I want to read!). Nevertheless, here’s what I’d recommend from my shorter non-fiction reading in the month of March.
- Miranda Popkey wrote a terrific article for the New Yorker about two of my life heroes: Mary and George Oppen.
- I loved and was inspired by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s generous, capacious article in Jacobin on welcoming newcomers to mass social movements and how to avoid the political immaturity that too often characterizes leftist movements.
- Listened raptly to Tim Berners-Lee writing in The Guardian on what we need to change to save the web.
- Can’t imagine that many of you haven’t already seen Mary Beard’s “Women in Power” cover essay in the London Review of Books, but if you missed it, you probably want to correct your oversight.
- Was bummed out and outraged by Liza Mundy’s article in The Atlantic about some of the enormous problems tech companies have with treating women decently. Did love the suggestions she outlined that might show some promise in addressing systemic discrimination, many of which were new to me.
- As a teetotaller in boozy Wisconsin, I found a lot to think about in Kristi Coulter’s rich piece for Quartz about drinking and its relationship to modern womanhood in America.
- Was definitely piqued by Stephen Buranyi’s description in the Guardian of Michèle Nuijten and Chris Hartgerink’s brainchild: Statcheck, an algorithm-based approach to detecting and rooting out ‘scientific misconduct’ in published research.
- Was troubled and challenged by Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in The New Yorker about a spate of recent research on why human beings tend to be worse than we should be at changing our minds when confronted with information which contradicts our present beliefs.
- Really enjoyed this Thomas Chatterton Williams profile of John Edgard Wideman for the New York Times. His book about Emmett Till’s father sounds like it’ll be outstanding.
- Respected and admired Coco Fusco’s article on Dana Schutz’ controversial painting of Emmett Till’s open casket in Hyperallergic.
- Mark Hanna wrote a terrific revisionary history piece on pirates for Humanities, the magazine of the NEH.
- Thomas Nagel reviewed Daniel Dennett’s most recent book for the New York Review of Books. What a treat!
- Was educated and distressed by a summary of a study on the effect of new right-wing media outlets on recent political discourse published in the Columbia Journalism Review and written by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, and Ethan Zuckerman.
- Loved George Saunders writing about writing for The Guardian. I’m going to read his Lincoln in the Bardo novel soon.
- Enjoyed Robbert Dijkgraaf’s arguments (even if they were a bit obvious) about the importance of non-utilitiarian science research in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Was fascinated by Simon Parkin’s exploration in Nautilus of how ‘luck’ gets engineered into video games
- Was saddened to read of the death of Richard Swigg, a scholar I admired a great deal. He was generous to me, a curious stranger, in ways that most academics would not have been, and I was moved by his kindness and care.
- Learned a lot about health care, federal policy, and some of the stickier issues around the current ‘debate’ from Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein’s Vox article “The Lessons of Obamacare.”
- Despite its terrible click-bait headline, I found this Jo Marchant article for the Smithsonian about recent archaeological excavations of a Mycenaean grave site at Pylos, near the southwest coast of Greece, really intriguing.
- Had the bittersweet experience of reading Torie Rose DeGhett’s final edition of ‘This Week in War’. Happy to see her moving on to something better she’s chosen for herself, but I’ll definitely miss the exhaustive, thorough weekly rundown of global conflict she’s been producing over the past few years.
Featured image: “The People’s Library” by Jagz Mario (CC BY-SA 2.0)