It has been over a year since our last reading recommendations. These two are a response to the discourse of the United States Presidential race now underway.
Our Kids explores in depth inequality and the diverging paths of Americans amid record unemployment.
Strangers in Their Own Land is arguably the one book everyone should read before the next US Presidential election. Two key concepts are identity and the role of government.
Robert D. Putnam
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2016)
Simon & Schuster, 400 p.
In Our Kids, Putnam's core argument is that the opportunities for America’s children are increasingly diverging based on one’s socioeconomic class background. Putnam argues that a child’s outcome more closely aligns with children of the same class than children of the same race; one example being children's preparedness for kindergarten.
The impetus for this book are recent observations by Robert Putnam of his hometown Port Clinton, Michigan, and declining class diversity since his youth in the 1950’s. Using diverse vignettes and statistics Putnam takes a deep dive into families, parenting, schooling and community.
In these chapters there are several, what Putnam terms it, “scissor charts”, illustrating diverging paths for different classes. Adolescent obesity is one example, declining for children whose parents graduated from college while increasing for children whose parents have at most a high school education.
The emphasis on networks in this book may come as no surprise for anyone familiar with Putnam’s earlier work Bowling Alone. For example Putnam points out that a student’s educational outcome can be shaped as much if not more by one’s classmates than the actual school. When one buys a home in a strong school district one is not so much gaining access to a school as they are joining a community that is more likely to read often with their children, etc.
He concludes with policy recommendations, some likely quite familiar and others that are more novel. This book offers a solid step towards understanding the growing inequality emerging during one of the longest periods of economic expansion in the United States’ history.
Strangers in Their Own Land
Arlie Russell Hochschild
The New Press, 416 p.
"Blacks, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans -- all have cut ahead of you in line. But it’s people like you who have made this country great. You feel uneasy. It has to be said: the line cutters irritate you. They are violating rules of fairness. You resent them, and you feel it’s right that you do. So do your friends. Fox commentators reflect your feelings, for your deep story is also the Fox News deep story.” (p.138-139)
This is an excerpt of the Deep Story that UC Berkeley Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild constructs after an exhaustive five year journey through Louisiana to understand the political right. Hochschild forms new friendships with Tea Party members, and is invited into many homes, churches and guided drives through “cancer alley.”
In a state ravaged by mineral extraction and industrial pollution, Hochschild is grappling with the question, why is it that Louisianans are so strongly opposed to the government trying to right the environmental wrongs that they see all around them? This is the Great Paradox.
For Hochschild, the answers lies in the Deep Story of those that align not just politically but culturally with the Tea Party. In Strangers in Their Own Land, Hochschild develops the Deep Story in an approachable and non-academic way built on sixty interviews. The Deep Story is revealed on a personal level through Hochschild’s account of The Rebel, The Cowboy, The Worshipper and the Team Player. The Deep Story is one of feelings of disrespect and unfairness, of feeling like a stranger in one’s own land and the government helping others to cut in line for access to the American Dream.
Hochschild demonstrates that the Great Paradox of her Tea Party friends extends beyond Louisiana. As the book closes, those that feel disrespected by the government find someone that seemingly speaks to and for them, Donald Trump.
Thank you for reading and we gladly welcome your feedback and suggestions for relevant material. If you see value in these emails, consider supporting our nonprofit by contacting us at email@example.com.
co-founder of boundariesandcrossings.org