Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

21 Jun 2020, 7:58 a.m.

Quick Book Recommendations

A few timely book recommendations.

  • To repeat my 2013 review of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: SO GOOD. READ THIS. Ta-Nehisi Coates agrees with me. Want to understand the US in the twentieth century? Want to think in real terms about exit, voice, and loyalty? Read Wilkerson's narrative history of black people who decided to stop putting up with Jim Crow and escaped from the US South (sometimes in the face of local sheriffs ripping up train tickets). Riveting, thought-provoking, and disquieting in the best way. My only nit to pick: I think if her editor had cut repetitions of things she's already told the reader, she coulda cut about 15 of the 500+ pages. But that's really minor, and as a scifi reader I'm accustomed to absorbing world-building at perhaps a higher clip than expected.
  • To quote from my 2018 review of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy by Tressie McMillan Cottom (2017, The New Press): it is simply excellent. Here's an excerpt, here's Dr. McMillan Cottom's page about the book, here's her Twitter.

    It's a book that makes scholarship accessible to a non-academic reader. It's a book that uses the author's experiences -- as a student, as an admissions sales rep, as a teacher, as a researcher, as a black woman, as a friend and daughter -- to vividly illustrate and bring the reader into theoretical understandings of systems, policy, and economic forces. It's sociology, it's investigative journalism, it's memoir, it's a lens on something I see every day (those subway/bus ads for education). It's witty and no-nonsense.

  • And: I recommend Robin Einhorn's 2006 book American Taxation, American Slavery (University of Chicago Press) on the effect of slaveowners' tax avoidance on the structure of the US Constitution and government. It's brainbending and dense and academic and full of astonishing anecdotes. Einhorn discusses how:
    • the Southern colonies had much less competent tax-collection infrastructure than the Northern colonies did, partly because going into someone's home to count and assess their slaves was seen as much more invasive than walking on or near someone's property to assess their real estate
    • damaging "taxation=slavery" rhetoric (which continues through today) was projection by slaveowners
    • the negotiations around protections for white supremacy affected national policy from the late 1700s through the early 1900s
    I took a great class with the author, Robin Einhorn, when I was in undergrad, and I think not nearly enough people know of her work. Here's an special essay by Dr. Einhorn, "Tax Aversion and the Legacy of Slavery". This book also gave me more preparation to get a lot out of Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves.

Wilkerson and McMillan Cottom are black; Einhorn is white.

Dreamwidth's "Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge" community crowdsources reviews of books by people of color, in case you want to diversify your reading along that dimension.