RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

Isa Does It Again

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a familiar name to many vegans; she’s written a number of vegan cookbooks, including the classic Veganomican, an essential recipe collection and culinary guide for those who avoid cooking with animal products, and she has a popular website focusing on vegan baking and cooking, Post Punk Kitchen. Her latest cookbook endeavor is Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildy Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week, and let’s just say I’m in love. Isa Does It is chock full of over 200 delicious and easy-to-make recipes, highlighted by beautiful photos and charming illustrations. As with all her recipes that I’ve made, I’ve found them to be fairly quick (between a half-an-hour to an hour to make) and layered with complex flavors. This is a great cookbook for people who aren’t vegan, too; as a vegetarian, I find I’m occasionally disappointed by vegan cookbooks because they use a lot of uncommon ingredients or dairy replacements that I wouldn’t want to buy. Isa Does It relies on fairly common ingredients, making it a great choice for not only vegans, but also for vegetarians and for omnivores looking for ideas for “Meatless Mondays.”


Isa Does It


Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction with her book Salvage the Bones, a novel that follows a poor Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and uses their story to confront issues of poverty and racism.  Ward’s new book Men We Reaped continues the discussion of poverty and race, but this time the stakes seem even higher: Men We Reaped is a memoir centering on the death of five men, in as many years,  in her small DeLisle, Mississippi community.  All five men touched her life in some manner, but the heart of the book lies with the death of her beloved brother Joshua.  Though the circumstance of each death varies, they are inevitably linked by unyielding poverty and deeply systemic racism.

Interspersed between the stories of their deaths, Ward tells stories of her childhood; the nonlinear storyline of the book unwinds like a puzzle—as more pieces of her childhood and details of her community are revealed, the issues that tie the deaths together become more apparent, and her feelings that the black men in her community are being stolen away are understandable.  Ward knows the hopelessness, the fear, and sadness left behind when a community loses its men; this is her attempt to tell their stories and let the world know that their lives mattered.


Men We Reaped

To Save Everything Click Here

Ever get annoyed by any of those TED talks that seem to gloss over the complexities of a problem and present a technological solution that seems too good to be true in its simplicity? Ever feel grumpy when technology pundits seem to assume that there are socially-networked, big data solutions to all of the world’s problems? Well, let me introduce you toEvgeny Morozov, one of the most challenging, snarky, and clearly brilliant people examining technology and its impact on our world today. Morozov’s latest title, To Save Everything Click Here, argues against the ubiquitous “solutionism” and “Internet-centric” thinking that seeks slick and efficient technology based solutions to nearly all of mankind’s problems and fails to recognize, or even consider, the value that messiness and inefficiency can often bring to certain systems (American politics being a good example, where conflict, compromise, and messiness are built right into the process). This is not what I would call a “light read” by any stretch, and the shear ferocity of Morozov’s argument can become tedious and annoying along the way, but his appraisal of our modern world and the way that it is developing are well worth it. For more brilliant contrarian views on our networked society see Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.


To Save Everything Click Here

How to Be a Woman

When I heard a buzz about a British bestseller written by a very funny woman who wasn’t afraid to talk about feminism, I thought, “This is the book for me!” And when I checked out the book and found a blurb on it that referred to it as “the British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants,” I thought, “this is definitely the book for me!” Although I see only a few similarities between Bossypants and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (both written by funny women who are willing to acknowledge the difficulties of being a mother), it really was the book for me.
Caitlin Moran began her career as a columnist for Melody Maker (a British music magazine) at the ripe young age of 16. Her book is a funny but pertinent look at feminism and women in the Western world today, told through important events/mistakes over the course of her life and career. She’s warm, irreverent, and a bit crass. Reading this book felt to me like getting back in touch with an old friend and laughing about ridiculous life choices made in an effort to be a woman.


How to Be a Woman

Mrs. Kennedy and Me

Jacqueline Kennedy was a woman who desperately wanted a private life. Clint Hill was the man who was charged with giving her as much of a private life as he was able.

 As one of two Secret Service agents on the First Lady’s protective detail, he tells their amazing story in Mrs. Kennedy and Me. Although the stories in this memoir are fascinating, what is most compelling is Mr. Hill’s fierce dedication and loyalty to Mrs. Kennedy as she lived a life that was so very public.


Mrs. Kennedy and Me

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson once dreamed that the world shrunk into an apple. An angel told him to eat it, and so he did. A fitting image of transcendentalist thought! The world is so small we can eat it; the mind prevails,"there was never any thing that did not proceed from a thought"; a single human being can do anything.

By most accounts Emerson was a great American, a great speaker, and a great man. He was a transcendentalist, a nature writer, a Unitarian minister, a teacher, a literary figure, a speaker (yes, that was his profession!), a poet. He was anti-slavery, anti-establishment, pro-women's rights (all when it was "unfashionable"); and, even through family deaths and sorrows, he was a champion of unbridled and unparalleled optimism. But what impresses me most is the degree to which he thought for himself, went his own way, and fearlessly lived.

At 24 Emerson visits the South. He's at a bible study. He can hear a slave auction outside. He and his wife, part of the Underground Railroad in Boston, would always be vocal against slavery. On the Emancipation Proclamation he said: “[Lincoln] has been permitted to do more for America than any other American man.” When the war was only about saving the Union, he wouldn't’t let his son enlist. He supported John Brown. In 1844 even the churches wouldn't open their doors for his speeches, which fueled his distrust of organized religion: “God builds his temple in the heart, on the ruins of churches and religions."

On the unity of all persons: “There is one mind common to all individual men” Like Thoreau's chant "Simplicity!" Emerson's chant was "Identity, identity! Friend and foe are one stuff, and the stuff is such and so much that the variations of surface are unimportant.” On us and Nature: “There is a relation between man and nature so that whatever is in matter is in mind.” On beauty: “all is in each” and “the standard of beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms—the totality of nature.” He was so convinced in the power of a single individual that he said "properly there is no history, only biography." In other words, if you want to learn history, read a bunch of biographies--history is nothing but a list of great and terrible people. But we are all potentially great people: “each fine genius that appears is already predicted in our constitution.” In a stoic and Christian way, he thought groups of people only make things worse. After witnessing the French Revolution, he says “It is always becoming evident that the permanent good is for the soul only and cannot be retained in any society or system...the world is always childish." On courage, peace, and nonviolence Emerson was like Martin Luther King Jr: "Courage is grounded always on a belief in the identity of the nature of my enemy with my own [nature], that he with whom you contend is no more than you."

Yes I recommend this biography, but it's a commitment (due to length).


Emerson: Mind on Fire

Why does Plato Banish Poets from the City?

There's no way of understating the influence Plato's The Republic had on the history of Western thought. Whitehead said that all philosophy after Plato was nothing but a footnote to what Plato already said (he wrote several dialogues).

Plato was one of the first to start off the great "utopian" tradition of writing about a perfect world, a perfect society, the harmonious family, the best City, a sublime life-after-death, a tranquil existence within oneself--all imaginations that could be real, if only we tried it this way. Everyone has thought of their own version. Think of Jesus' "kingdom of God" and St. Augustine's "city of God" and Thomas More's "utopia" (called "utopia" as a satire because in latin it means "no place") and Martin Luther King's "beloved" community" and B.F. Skinner's in  Walden TwoI met a guy at the library that was actually part of a real utopian commune in the U.S. (Emerson almost joined "Brook Farm"). Check out this book for a history of Utopias. 

Plato imagines that the perfect city is a mirror of the perfect person. People fundamentally have three parts to their Soul: the rational part, the "spiritive" part (as in a warrior has spirit), and the "appetite" part (or desires). A City has the same parts, and they rank in the same order. Philosopher-Kings rule the city as model's of rational thinking, warriors protect it as model's of spirit and courage and braveness of heart, and the "commoners" make and trade all the stuff as model's of drive and desire and want. Thus we have a city as an extension of the perfectly organized self.

Plato and the gang, very regretfully, decide not to let poets into his city. Read it to find out why!


The Republic

Love Part 14: Hobbes, Love as Obedience

Love is a desire, a craving, an "apetite" for what people think is good for them. The more "obedient" you are to a person, an idea, or a feeling, the more you act on it. For a second this sounds like Plato, but only for a second. In the state of nature, this "apetite" goes unchecked, leaving human nature to commit the most brutal selfish acts. What people need, says Hobbes, is the government to tell them what is good for them, what they should be obedient to:

“in the condition of men that have no other law but their own appetites, there can be no general rule of good and evil actions. But in a Commonwealth this measure is false: not the appetite of private men, but the law, which is the will and appetite of the state, is the measure.”

As Hobbes lays out the laws, or starting principles, of his utopia, he makes some startling claims about what “the people are to be taught.” First, they should not love other nations. Second, they should not love particular “popular” people [heroes] within their own nation; this takes away from the “Sovereign” [the ruling class, I take it]. Loving heroes "may fitly be compared to the violation of the second of the Ten Commandments.”

Sounding much like Augustine, but with a more grim and authoritarian tone generally, Hobbes reduces even the Golden Rule, and salvation itself, to pure obedience to God:

“All that is necessary to salvation is contained in two virtues, faith in Christ, and obedience to laws. The latter…if it were perfect, were enough to us. But because we are all guilty..."


“The obedience required at our hands by God, that accepteth in all our actions the will for the deed, is a serious endeavour to obey Him; and is called also by all such names as signify that endeavour. And therefore obedience is sometimes called by the names of charity and love, because they imply a will to obey; and our Saviour himself maketh our love to God, and to one another, a fulfilling of the whole law” And whoever loves God and others “hath all the obedience necessary.”

Hobbes focus on love as obedience reminds me of a quote from my blog on Christian love, where Jesus says that obedience fuels love, and vice versa: "If you love me, you will obey my teaching" and "this is my command: love each other."

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer