Category Archives: Non fiction

*** The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant

 

The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter is written by a woman who loves shopping especially when not directed toward buying anything, who defines the 20th century through just two people, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, and who keeps, and adds to, her mother’s collection of handbag–in other words, a woman with a great love of fashion, utterly unlike me. That said, her book is a wonderful exploration of clothes, the relationship women have with clothes, and the difficult relationship between designers and older women. Fun, and deeper than it seems, even with the repeats that seem to stem from having recycled blog posts into a full-length book,

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*** Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Written before its authors won the Nobel Prize (and occasionally funny to read after they did), Good Economics for Hard Times ambitiously tackles inequality, globalization, social programs, politics, and more. It’s a bit much! But it highlights some important themes, most importantly that markets cannot, by themselves, solve all problems, and that economic ideas should be carefully tested, and not only in the country where the generator of the idea happens to be located. We are, happily, far from the rational homo economicus and WEIRD subjects of most economics discussions.

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*** Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by

The Soong sisters, whose lives are told in Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, managed to marry Chiang Kai-shek, his finance minister, and, for the “Red” one, a famous Mainland China revolutionary. The book tells of their privates lives, but embedded as they were in the politics of China, and along the way enjoyed tremendous wealth and privilege, and access to various foreign government leaders, in part thanks to their American educations. The corruption and political intrigue are breathtaking.

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** The Crying Book by Heather Christie

The CryingBook  is a peculiar book mix of personal recollections of grief and exploration of why and how we cry. I may have liked the cover better than the contents.

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*** How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist weaves a solid theoretical description of racism with a very personal memoir of how he came to term with each aspect, starting as a third grader who noticed that the teacher called on the white students much more often than others–and bravely pointed that out to her. (Many of the experiences he relates show him in decidedly non-hero roles, which makes the book all the more credible and interesting.)

Not surprisingly, it’s a lot more difficult to be an antiracist than simply not be a racist, and I wish that the book had more practical suggestions on how to proceed, but it’s thought- and action-provoking.

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*** Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni

Ever wondered about the women (and teenagers) who left pretty comfortable lives in the West to join ISIS? The author of  Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS interviewed a dozen of them and describes their lives, before and after they moved to Syria, with compassion and a level of detail that allows to see the wide variety of reasons why they went, from devotion to adventure, from love to economic deprivation. Their future, and the future of their children, is very uncertain as their countries won’t take them back, for the most part. After reading the book you will want to find a better way for all of them.

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** The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas

The author of The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost is a college professor who conducted surveys with undergraduate students to better understand their use of social media. Her findings are interesting: college students are quite careful with social media and, for the most part, carefully curate their profiles so as not to run afoul of future employers. And they are also well aware that social media is a constructed happy place where triumphs are shared and defeats and struggles hidden. That does not mean that they do not suffer as they see their peers’ airbrushed lives. And, of course, they seek more anonymous and fleeting methods of communication so they can really be themselves, not so successful and not so kind, either.

I had two annoyances with the book. One is that the author occasionally tries to generalize her findings to all young people, even when her own results make it clear that college students use social media differently. For instance non-college students, with different job aspirations, seem to use Facebook much more freely to share their entire lives, including wild parties for instance. And she seems to rely entirely on her observations, even when quantitative proof is surely at hand, if she sought it. Still, an interesting view at how sophisticated college students can be with social media. Their parents could learn from their skills.

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