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VB Reads...Engaged Citizens

Read and discuss a variety of books exploring how to create a more civil and engaged community. Join Mary Dumas on the third Wednesday of the month from noon to 1:30pm . Authors DO NOT attend. Meetings are in the Readings Gallery -- brown bag lunches are encouraged. Anyone interested in exploring their role as an engaged citizen is welcome.

Wednesday, August 21st, 12:00pm

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua

Humans are tribal.  We need to belong to groups.  In many parts of the world, the group identities that matter most – the ones that people will kill and die for – are ethnic, religious, sectarian, or clan-based.  But because America tends to see the world in terms of nation-states engaged in great ideological battles – Capitalism vs. Communism, Democracy vs. Authoritarianism, the “Free World” vs. the “Axis of Evil” – we are often spectacularly blind to the power of tribal politics.  Time and again this blindness has undermined American foreign policy.  
 
In the Vietnam War, viewing the conflict through Cold War blinders, we never saw that most of Vietnam’s “capitalists” were members of the hated Chinese minority. Every pro-free-market move we made helped turn the Vietnamese people against us. In Iraq, we were stunningly dismissive of the hatred between that country’s Sunnis and Shias.  If we want to get our foreign policy right – so as to not be perpetually caught off guard and fighting unwinnable wars – the United States has to come to grips with political tribalism abroad.
 
Just as Washington’s foreign policy establishment has been blind to the power of tribal politics outside the country, so too have American political elites been oblivious to the group identities that matter most to ordinary Americans – and that are tearing the United States apart.  As the stunning rise of Donald Trump laid bare, identity politics have seized both the American left and right in an especially dangerous, racially inflected way.  In America today, every group feels threatened: whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, liberals and conservatives, and so on. There is a pervasive sense of collective persecution and discrimination.  On the left, this has given rise to increasingly radical and exclusionary rhetoric of privilege and cultural appropriation. On the right, it has fueled a disturbing rise in xenophobia and white nationalism. 
 
In characteristically persuasive style, Amy Chua argues that America must rediscover a national identity that transcends our political tribes.  Enough false slogans of unity, which are just another form of divisiveness. It is time for a more difficult unity that acknowledges the reality of group differences and fights the deep inequities that divide us.

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780399562877
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - June 25th, 2019

Wednesday, September 18th, 12:00pm

World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer

Over the past few decades there has been a revolution in terms of who controls knowledge and information. This rapid change has imperiled the way we think. Without pausing to consider the cost, the world has rushed to embrace the products and services of four titanic corporations. We shop with Amazon; socialize on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. These firms sell their efficiency and purport to make the world a better place, but what they have done instead is to enable an intoxicating level of daily convenience. As these companies have expanded, marketing themselves as champions of individuality and pluralism, their algorithms have pressed us into conformity and laid waste to privacy. They have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation, and put us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection—a world without mind. In order to restore our inner lives, we must avoid being coopted by these gigantic companies, and understand the ideas that underpin their success. 
 
Elegantly tracing the intellectual history of computer science—from Descartes and the enlightenment to Alan Turing to Stuart Brand and the hippie origins of today's Silicon Valley—Foer exposes the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology. The corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, he argues, are trampling longstanding liberal values, especially intellectual property and privacy. This is a nascent stage in the total automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life. By reclaiming our private authority over how we intellectually engage with the world, we have the power to stem the tide.

At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. There have been monopolists in the past but today's corporate giants have far more nefarious aims. They’re monopolists who want access to every facet of our identities and influence over every corner of our decision-making. Until now few have grasped the sheer scale of the threat. Foer explains not just the looming existential crisis but the imperative of resistance. 

World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781101981122
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - September 11th, 2018

Wednesday, October 16th, 12:00pm

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler, Shaun Whiteside (Translated by)

The Nazi regime preached an ideology of physical, mental, and moral purity. Yet as Norman Ohler reveals in this gripping new history, the Third Reich was saturated with drugs: cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, which were consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to German soldiers. In fact, troops were encouraged, and in some cases ordered, to take rations of a form of crystal meth—the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to account for the breakneck invasion that sealed the fall of France in 1940, as well as other German military victories. Hitler himself became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs—ultimately including Eukodal, a cousin of heroin—administered by his personal doctor.

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich Cover Image
By Norman Ohler, Shaun Whiteside (Translated by)
$15.99
ISBN: 9781328915344
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - March 6th, 2018

Wednesday, November 20th, 12:00pm

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark

When the people of Flint, Michigan, turned on their faucets in April 2014, the water pouring out was poisoned with lead and other toxins. Through a series of disastrous decisions, the state government had switched the city’s water to a source that corroded Flint’s aging lead pipes. Complaints about the foul-smelling water were dismissed: the residents of Flint—a largely poor African American city of about 100,000 people—were not seen as credible, even in matters of their own lives.

It took 18 months of activism and a band of dogged outsiders to force the state to admit that the water was poisonous. But this was only after 12 people died and Flint's children suffered irreparable harm. The long battle for accountability and a humane response to this man-made disaster have only just begun.

In the first full-length account of this epic failure, The Poisoned City recounts the gripping story of Flint’s poisoned water through the people who caused it, suffered from it, and exposed it. It is a chronicle of one town, but could also be about any American city, all made precarious by the neglect of infrastructure and the erosion of democratic decision-making. Cities like Flint are set up to fail—and for the people who live and work in them, the consequences may be mortal.

The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9781250181619
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Picador - July 23rd, 2019

Wednesday, December 18th, 12:00pm

Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn by Chris Hughes

The first half of Chris Hughes’s life played like a movie reel right out of the “American Dream.” He grew up in a small town in North Carolina. His parents were people of modest means, but he was accepted into an elite boarding school and then Harvard, both on scholarship. There, he met Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz and became one of the co-founders of Facebook.

In telling his story, Hughes demonstrates the powerful role fortune and luck play in today’s economy. Through the rocket ship rise of Facebook, Hughes came to understand how a select few can become ultra-wealthy nearly overnight. He believes the same forces that made Facebook possible have made it harder for everyone else in America to make ends meet.

To help people who are struggling, Hughes proposes a simple, bold solution: a guaranteed income for working people, including unpaid caregivers and students, paid for by the one percent. The way Hughes sees it, a guaranteed income is the most powerful tool we have to combat poverty and stabilize America’s middle class. Money—cold hard cash with no strings attached—gives people freedom, dignity, and the ability to climb the economic ladder. A guaranteed income for working people is the big idea that's missing in the national conversation.

This book, grounded in Hughes’s personal experience, will start a frank conversation about how we earn in modern America, how we can combat income inequality, and ultimately, how we can give everyone a fair shot.

Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781250196590
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - February 20th, 2018