The Common Good

In the Stacks, August 22, 2012

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

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Here are my picks of this week’s books.

‘The Twilight War’

By David Crist, Reviewed by James Traub

The conflict between the United States and Iran, from 1979 to the present.

 “The Twilight War” explains the baffled and sometimes hapless and often contradictory response of American policy makers to the Iranian revolution over the last 33 years. We all know the basic outlines of the story: the hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter, the bungled arms-for-hostages deal under Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” Barack Obama’s “engagement” policy followed by a tightening vise of sanctions. David Crist, a historian for the federal government and a Marine veteran, has tied all these clanking tin cans together. As adversaries go, Iran has proved to be much more bewildering, if until now far less dangerous, than the Soviet Union, its predecessor as America’s Public Enemy No. 1.

‘Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt’

By Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, Reviewed by Philipp Meyer

A visit to the centers of this country’s poverty in the 21st century.

This book is a collaboration between Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, showing us daily life in four centers of 21st-century American poverty. Hedges’ contribution — a combination of reportage and commentary — is in a long tradition of literary journalism. Sacco’s is the sort of graphic art popularized by Art Spiegelman in “Maus.” Both writers have decades of experience as correspondents in war zones, but in “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” they turn their attention to the bombed-out and collapsed areas of their own country. …

Anyone who grew up near a postindustrial area — who has seen a middle-class town become a pocket of destitution — will not find any one chapter in this book too shocking. What is shocking is the degree to which this depth of poverty is found everywhere, from rural Indian reservations to near-slave conditions in Florida tomato fields. These are not pleasant stories. They are the very sort of thing we all prefer to forget so that we can focus on our daily lives, and this makes it all the more important that they are recorded.

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